The first question that comes to mind concerns the practical use of such a firearm. The puny .22 rimfire is hardly adequate for law enforcement, a military campaign or for hunting anything other than small game.
Any scepticism on the part of the GUN WORLD test crew was quickly dispelled at the range; doubt became enthusiasm when some thoughts were offered by Charles W. Goff, Jr., president of American Arms which makes the 180.
When loaded with the correct .22 ammunition -- the drum magazine so highly visible atop the barrel group will accommodate up to 177 rounds -- the gun simply won't quit until the magazine is empty or until the trigger finger is worn out.
We had discovered earlier during a frustrating day at the range, that the gun will not function with standard power .22 rimfires. Extra-power .22 ammo is a must. We had learned this the hard way after careful one-at-a-time loading 177 rounds in the drum magazine, only to have a jam or failure to extract.
The frustration was quickly resolved through use of the most powerful rimfire loads we had on hand. With Goff supervising, the test crew loaded magazines with Winchester Super-X solids and hollow points, designated X22 LR and X22 LRH, plus the Remington Viper solid point and Yellow Jacket hollow point ammo.
Loading up 177 .22 rounds in the drum magazine is not as difficult as it sounds. After twenty years of experience, Charles Goff can do it in just over four minutes. Once you get the hang of it, slipping each round into the loading port, unlocking and turning the magazine base to accept the next round is a cinch.
Once the loaded drum is installed on the rifle, power to operate it is provided by a winding device, which is removed to load the magazine. The winder pops on and off the magazine by finger pressure on the two grooved protrusions, designed to fit through two holes in the magazine base. The winder is held in place by two oblong shaped steel springs on the underside of the magazine base. It is important, we found, that the winder be securely locked down before the loaded magazine is installed on the rifle for shooting. If not locked down, the shooter will experience a malfunction. Careful visual inspection of the underside of the magazine will insure that all four spring surfaces are snapped over the locking grooves of the winder.
With the loaded drum magazine locked down into the gun, there are a couple more steps to keep in mind before commencing fire. First, of course, the winder must be wound. For a full magazine of 177 rounds, the winder is turned clockwise 3 1/4 turns or until it stops. With the right side safety lever set on Safe, pull back on the bolt handle and let it ride forward to chamber the first round. Move the safety lever to the Fire position, take aim and fire. The partially loaded magazine may be removed from the gun before leaving the range. But there is one more little thing to keep in mind.
There is a lever atop the winder with two detents, one is marked F. The obvious American interpretation of that F is that it stands for Fire. Wrong! It stands for Freeze, and it acts as a winder brake so that the magazine may be removed without spilling a few or many rounds out of the magazine as it's slipped from the gun.
At one point during testing, one intrepid member of the crew accidentally dropped a nearly full magazine on the ground without the brake being set. It took about one second to unload more than a hundred .22 rounds into the dirt. It wasn't any fun and the language was atrocious.
Hold on there! All this sounds as if the American 180 is full of technical problems and gadgets which make it difficult to shoot.
Far from it.
The gun is an absolute joy to shoot. It is fun, accurate, easy to shoot and, when the prescribed pills are fed into it, completely reliable. The .22 rimfire offers imperceptical recoil. Wearing the required hearing protection, at least one member of the test crew found it difficult to detect the rounds firing; except for the little holes appearing in the target face. Shot from a bench and rested on sandbags, the rifle does not move upon ignition. If the shooter does his part, does not nudge the gun between or during trigger pulls, the American 180 will put all 177 rounds through virtually one ragged hole.
Rate of fire for the semi-auto is limited only by the stamina of the shooter's trigger finger. As Goff wryly commented, "The 180's rate of fire tends to slow down after a hundred rounds." Finger fatigue sets in.
For the law enforcement and military markets, the American 180 is available in a selective fire model; full-auto. Charles Goff demonstrated the submachine gun version at a recent product demonstration and show at the Los Angeles Police Department range. The gun will fire 1800 rounds a minute, thirty per seconds. The full 177 round drum magazine will empty in six seconds, with no perceptible muzzle climb or noticeable recoil. Impressive, to say the least.
The American 180 was tested by the U.S. Army a few years ago as a possible special military weapon. The official report of that testing notes that there were no stoppages durring 28,000 rounds fired, attributable to the guns design. The only problems were from improper loading by the shooters (sound familiar?) and a few encountered long rounds. As a matter of record, it was the testing office's personnal opinion that the American 180 was the most impressive and deadliest automatic weapon, within its range capacity, he had ever tested.
The gun tested here was, of course, the civilian-legal, semi-automatic version. The American 180 tested seems extremely well-made of quality materials. The walnut stock, forend and pistol grip are of plain, straight grain American walnut. Metal parts are nicely machined and deeply blueblack blued. Everything fits as it should and the gun is simple to take down, without tools, for extra cleaning when required.
The 180 is equipped with an adjustable rear peep sight and a fixed single post front and pretective wings. The gun may be fired from the hip; with 177 rounds in the magazine, almost any target within the one-hundred-yard effective range may by acquired by "walking" the hits onto the objective. It's a great rifle for small game and plinking in the boonies.
If the American 180 catches your fancy but the appearance and cost seem a bit too plain, several limited editions are available including a highly polished, specially blued version for about $2500, a chrome-finish model for just under $4000; and the gold-plated version is yours for about $15,000, presentation case included.
Charles Goff tells us that a .22 Win mag version semi-auto 180 M-21 is coming off the production lines in Salt Lake now. We haven't had the oppurtunity to test that model but it ought to be awesome. More exciting than the .22 Win mag is the development -- through combined efforts of Winchester and American Arms -- of a brand new round and rifle to accomodate it. It's called by the rather awkward and long name of .22 Winchester American Magnum Special (WAMS?). Few details on the new round have been released except to hint that it may revolutionize the rimfire market. It is said to be as powerful as the older .22 Win mag, but requiringnot much more volume to house than the .22 long rifle round. If nothing comes unglued, the new round and the new firearm ought to be impressive.
Whatever happens, the newer version will have to be a long step forward to out-shoot and out-fun the .22 LR American 180. With the correct ammunition, the test rifle seems unstoppable. Most important, shooting this Lewis gun lookalike is enjoyable and exciting. What more could you want?