When I wrote “We’re Putting the Band Back Together” in October 2011, Windham Weaponry was just getting started. Here’s a quick recap: former Bushmaster owner Richard Dyke came out of retirement and put together a team of talented gun builders who had been left jobless after Freedom Group’s surprise consolidation nearly a year ago. After purchasing Bushmaster, Freedom Group shut down the factory in Windham, Maine, and moved all the equipment away, lock stock, and gun barrels too. The Remington plant in Ilion, New York now builds the rifles engraved with the name Bushmaster. Instead of just giving up and going home, the original Bushmaster crew decided to go back to the basics, building high quality, old school configuration AR-15s at a great price point.
Cheaper Than Dirt! proudly carries all three models currently offered by Windham Weaponry. That’s right, just three models, all 16-inch carbines. The MPC is a standard M4 type, the HBC is the same gun with a heavy target barrel, and the SRC is the entry-level “sight ready” version with a single rail gas block and no rear sight on the flat top upper. You’ll have to add your own clamp-on irons to that one, if you want them. Windham also makes New York and California legal versions of each model, and that’s been about all you can expect a new company could handle, to begin with.
We visited Windham at SHOT Show last month and they showed us a new model, the VEX-SS “Varmint Exterminator.” The heart of any AR-15 is its barrel, and this one’s 20-inch, target-crowned, 1/8-twist tube is definitely special. It is made from 416R stainless, and it’s a heavy profile but fluted to reduce weight and increase its rigidity. Its chamber is cut for the Compass Lake specification chamber, which is slightly “tighter” than a .223 Wylde chambering to promote maximum accuracy. It is not dangerous to fire 5.56 NATO military-spec ammo through the VEX–Windham uses 5.56 to test fire each gun. But the Compass Lake chamber indicates that this gun is intended to shoot handloaded, hunting specification, or match-grade ammo. This barrel will really shine with heavier bullets in the 69-to-77-grain range. The bolt on this gun is specially matched to its chamber, again in the name of accuracy. To keep the rifle from getting too barrel heavy, the forend is a lightweight freefloat tube. The gas block is a single rail so you can easily attach a front sight if you wish, but most buyers are more likely to opt for a high zoom scope. Knowing this, Windham includes a pair of riser mounts with the VEX, so the owner won’t have to buy special super-tall rings to mount their optic of choice. Out back, instead of going with a standard A2 stock, Windham upgraded to an ACE Ltd. unit with a cushy cheek weld that is comfortable whether it’s hot outside or freezing cold. The Hogue rubberized pistol grip is more comfortable than a standard A2 pistol grip as well. Reflecting the varmint hunting intentions of this configuration, the Varmint Exterminator comes with a 5-round magazine that’s legal to hunt with everywhere. Of course, any standard AR-15 magazine will work as well. Windham considered putting a trigger upgrade in the VEX, but wanted to keep the price down and knew many serious shooters would replace any stock trigger with their favorite aftermarket two-stage anyway. Therefore, the VEX fire control group is a standard single-stage unit that has been carefully polished to maximize smoothness.
The VEX-SS represents the first departure from the tried and true “M4 carbine” family of AR-15s for Windham Weaponry. To my eye, its obvious that this rifle is intended to compete with the Bushmaster Varminter which is a very similar configuration. However, Windham has upped the ante with a better stock and a specialized barrel, and promises the Varmint Exterminator will cost less than Freedom Group’s Bushmasters. What’s next for Windham Weaponry? Well, my sources tell me that things are going so well for Windham that they are hiring back more friends from their Bushmaster days to ramp up their production of existing models. They are listing parts for sale separately on their website including barrels and upper kits. Value-priced, chrome lined 11.5 inch barrels are coming in soon for folks building short-barreled rifles and AR-15 pistols. And the next big thing for Windham is spreading into different calibers such as a .308 that will use Magpul PMAGs, and carbine variants chambered in an alternate caliber such as .300 Blackout, 6.8 SPC II, or 6.5 Grendel. What would you like to see next from this old-but-new AR-15 manufacturer?