Clones are a touchy topic for some people. Even what defines a clone is often debated. You’ll hear people throw the terms “clone” and “inspired by” around a lot depending on what online holes you frequent. Let me preface this whole rambling with a disclaimer. This all boils down to opinion. That said, this post will set the tone for how I approach the topic of clone rifles in all other posts that I personally post.

You’ve probably seen clones. They’ve probably popped up in forums, on Facebook, or in your Instagram feed. If you’ve looked into them, then you’ve probably even seen and heard a ton of acronyms that were new to you. Don’t feel any shame in having to google them. I certainly had to. There is absolutely no shame in it. You’ll probably also learn very quickly that the discussions about clones get heated very quickly.

You may wonder why there is so much hostility on the topic. Well, it is because the definition of what a clone is varies wildly from person to person. Clones are typically a replica of some form of military service rifle. Clone rifles span many eras. All the way from WWII to the GWOT. That stands for the Global War On Terror if you didn’t know. Its one of the many acronyms often thrown around when discussing modern clones. Some people’s ideas of acceptable accuracy of parts used vary widely. This is perhaps where the majority of controversy derives from.

What makes a clone?

You’ve probably seen it. The forum post of a guy calling his 10.5″ barreled AR-15 a Mk18 or a Mk18 clone. Then some other guy jumps in to correct him. Then some other guy jumps in and says that its inspired by the Mk18, but actually isn’t one. So what is it? It all depends. There is no shame in building a rifle that is inspired by a service rifle. In my personal opinion, it does not make it a clone. Not even close.

In my opinion a clone rifle uses as many original and accurate parts as humanly possible. Where not possible, the next most suitable parts are used. Let me elaborate with a few examples. The Mk18 came in multiple variations. If you’re goal is to build a Block II Mk18, then you need to take a look at the real rifle. It came with some very iconic parts. The 4 prong Surefire flash hider, Daniel Defense RIS II in brown, a certain set of optics could have been used, ect. In fact, there are lists of parts used in the Block II program.

It is, to most people, not acceptable to use any other handguard other than the RIS II. To go farther, most people also think that it is only acceptable to use the proper colored handguards. Some people go so far as to only use handguards that are marked with the proper manufacturing locations for the particular time period that their clone represents. You can get lost in the details of a clone build if you truly want to.

Acceptable Substitutions… maybe?

So you’ve got the proper handguard, flash hider, you found a Colt 10.3″ barrel instead of a 10.5″ that is some off brand, ect. Is it still a clone if you use an Anderson lower? In my opinion, no. I think you can still throw it in the “inspired by” category. At this point, I’d say that you need to really evaluate what you want to do. Most of these parts are expensive and hard to come by, so why not go full clone? The point is to accurately replicate a service rifle and when you cant get the actual parts, then the next most appropriate thing is used.

What is appropriate though? What cant you get? Well, there are certain parts that you flat out will not be able to get your hands on. For example, you wont get your hands on a full auto lower unless you live in a free state, do the NFA thing, and pay a ton of money. Hell, your going into NFA territory by building a Mk18, but more on this later. So what is an acceptable substitute for a lower? The lower that is closest to the real thing. Who makes M4’s for the military? Colt and FN. Most Mk18 clones you will see are Colt based. You can snag semi-auto colt lowers that are “Property of US Government” marked. Even a regular old Colt LE6920 lower will suffice for the majority of cloners, but some get into that minutia where the serial number prefix must be LE or there must not be a QR code.

Now, we’re using a Mk18 for an example here. The Mk18 is a short barreled rifle. That means you’re in NFA territory. This is a scary place for some people. In all honesty, I personally don’t mind building a clone as a pistol with a brace so long as its just a measure to get it put together until your tax stamp comes in. Lets face it, people are impatient creatures and I’m no different. I’m told the turn around for an E-filed form 1 to build a short barreled rifle is incredibly short right now. Much shorter than the almost year long wait for a suppressor. Either way, remember this. Once a rifle always a rifle. You cannot turn a rifle lower into a pistol legally, but you can go from a pistol to a rifle. I have seen Colt lowers on Charlies Custom Clones that are pistols and they say that they got them as virgin unassembled lowers.

A pistol brace isn’t clone, but some people are okay with them a means to assemble their rifle while they wait for their tax stamp.

Theres another layer to this onion?!?

Yes, why yes there is. A lot of people classify clones in a lot of different ways. Most of them have to do with what parts are actually on the guns themselves. There are a few common themes though.

There are a group of really hardcore cloners who are purists. The only thing clone to them is “as issued” clones. This means the guns come with the parts and equipment that were issued with the gun. Typically they’re sticking to the Block I or Block II equipment list depending on what they’re trying to build. Nothing else is acceptable. Those builds make for some cool clones, but a lot of parts are expensive and hard to find.

The second major group of cloners you’ll probably encounter are the “seen in the wild” group. This is kind of where I fall. The philosophy is that if it was used over sees, seen in the wild, and you have proof that some one out there was using it, then it can be considered clone. This is where you see some variations in stocks, grips, lights, ect. Usually they aren’t variations in the major parts like handguards, flash hiders, bcg’s, recievers, ect. Its usually the parts that are bolted onto the rifles that are easy for the end user to change out. So that Magpul CTR on that Mk18 is probably acceptable if you’re not going for an “as issued” clone.

A lot of the other stuff for me falls into the inspired by category. Why is this? Mostly because you start seeing stuff that you don’t see used over seas and/or the rifles/pistols aren’t as issued. That is not to diminish the coolness of such a weapon, I just don’t think it falls into clone territory. If its got a ton of cool GWOT parts, but isn’t a clone, then that doesn’t mean its not cool. I’d just say its an inspired rifle. I won’t spend a whole ton of time on these rifles, but on my non-clone guns I do like to use GWOT parts because they work and they’re quality pieces of equipment.

But they’re inferior right?

This is another thing I hear thrown around. The answer is yes. The parts that they’re made of can be inferior to a lot of stuff on the civilian market. We have access to amazing handguards, awesome triggers, better optics in some cases, and there have been a lot of reliability improvements made in some parts. The majority of innovation comes from the civilian market. For these reasons, a lot of people dislike clones.

So why would you want an inferior rifle? Because its a piece of military history. Perhaps you like the rifles. Maybe you want to recreate the rifle you carried while serving your country. If that is the case, then thank you for your service. Maybe you enjoy the process or the challenge that the hunt for the parts presents. There are many reasons. They are also just cool as hell. So how inferior are they?

Not really that inferior. In terms of reliability they are often quite reliable. I’d say more so than a lot of the non-clone guns people build themselves. I recently ran a class with my Block II SOPMOD clone suppressed. I had zero issues with it and I was incredibly hard on that gun. Many other non-clone guns had issues. When it boils down to it, you are building a gun that originally was built for work. They have to be reliable.

The biggest thing is that you will end up with a gun that is heavy, might have an inferior trigger, and so forth. Your split times might not be as nice as they could be with a competition rifle and the clones might be more fatiguing to run because they’re heavier. They might have a lot of mission specific accessories that weight them down, heavier handguards, and heavier profile barrels. There’s no escaping it, but the rifles are more than capable of doing what needs to be done in 99% of the situations you will ever use them in. After all, they’re used to fight wars.

Optics, lights, lasers, handguards, vfg’s, SOCOM profile barrels, suppressors, and all sorts of other things add up for a very heavy rifle.

But where do I find that stuff… and my wallet?!?

Another argument people have for hating on clones is that they claim they can build a better rifle for more cheap. That is true. You can build a very nice rifle for much cheaper than a clone. On top of that, half the parts are hard to find. There are many of the parts are rare, never sold on the civilian market, or are no longer made.

The rarity of a lot of these parts makes building a clone very hard. Some times this is where substituted parts come in. You’ll see a lot of 3 prong Surefire flash hiders over the 4 prongs for instance. Maybe the newer B5 SOPMOD stocks over the older LMT ones. That’s fine for the majority of people and even I wont knock people on that. I do appreciate the time and effort it takes to collect the correct parts though.

There are ways to find said rare parts though. If you want to go that far down the rabbit hole, then first and foremost get active in the clone community. You’ll learn more about doing things the right way and talk to a lot of interesting people along the way. In fact, you might even run into people with first hand knowledge of the weapons you seek to clone. On top of that, you begin to network and that is the number one way I find my parts. Not searching the Equipment Exchange’s on forums, Gunbroker, or any other way. Its all about networking. The other methods are secondary.

That said, you might be the networking king, but do you have the money? These parts are expensive. If you want an EO-Tech 553 with all the correct markings in the correct color with a corresponding G23 magnifier, then you might find yourself in a situation where you’re shelling out a lot of cash. If you want to get full powered PEQ-15 deep, then you’ll definitely be very deep into your wallet. You might find a deal here and there though. It all depends. I guess the moral here is to be prepared to spend a lot of money.

Concluding this ramble fest.

So where am I trying to go with all this? Well, if you’re new to clones and considering building one, then I want you to have a small understanding of what you’re getting into. You wont get the larger understanding of how deep the deep end really is until you’re in it. Parts are hard to find and expensive and there are a lot of elitists out there ready to disapprove of anything not quite clone enough for them. Even I am not afraid to be that guy in some cases…

This is just a long rambling opinion piece that only brushes the surface. You can literally get lost in the minutia when it comes to clones. The waters are vast and deep in clone territory. So vast and so deep that it is hard to know everything and often you will not find a single person well versed in it all. That’s where your networking skills will come in. This is all just a primer so that you know how I will approach future clone content.

In the end, if you do decide that the clone life is for you…. good luck! You’ll need it.