by Jeff Johnston - Thursday, December 21, 2017
A quick review of 2017 reveals that it was the again the year of the AR-15. But, looks can be deceiving. You see, as ARs—also called Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR)—peak in popularity, this modular platform is undergoing a natural evolution, and one that’s great for sportsmen. While several heavyweight firearm players made their entrances into the AR-15 world this year, including Mossberg with its MMR rifle and Springfield Armory with its Saint, the real story required reading the fine stamped print on receivers. Multiple companies are now chambering these rifles in larger, more versatile calibers than the typical AR-15’s 5.56X45 NATO/.223 Rem., while making the actual guns lighter and more nimble than AR-10s of old. Indeed, the flat-shooting 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge (120-grain bullet @ 3020 fps MV for 2430 ME) was the bell of the ball, and it’s now being chambered in several new ARs. Here are nine of my favorite new ARs that fire something other than 5.56 NATO.
1. Savage MSR 10 Hunter
Savage is known for its affordable and accurate rifles, so I figured it’d only be a matter of time before it released an AR of its own. Typical of the Westfield, Massachusetts company, when it did, it did it right by releasing not just one model, but a whole covey of MSRs that have real advantages over the competition. The model I like best is its MSR 10 Hunter that’s chambered in .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor. While it’s technically an AR-10, it’s made lighter than most at 8 pounds, and owns several notable features. For starters, the rifle’s charging handle is not on the rear of the receiver, but on the left side so it can be manipulated easily with the non-trigger hand (for righties) without dismounting the rifle. I love it. Its 20-inch (18 inches in .308 Win.) barrel is threaded for a suppressor; its adjustable buttstock, Blackhawk accessories and machined, free-floated handguard and 6.5 chambering make it conducive to accurate shooting and also to lugging it up a tree. Best yet, it’s about as inexpensive as AR-10s come, and with its lineage, I guarantee it’ll shoot. Of all the hog-killin’ ARs out there now, price and caliber considered, I like this one the best. MSRP: $1,481; savagearms.com.
2. Juggernut Tactical JT-10
If you prefer a .308 caliber carbine that’s almost as nimble as most AR-15s, take a hard look at Juggernaut Tactical’s JT-10. It’s an AR-10 that’s been skeletonized to reduce weight, anodized and Cerakoted to give it a naughty looking camo finish then chambered in .308 Win., so you don’t have to mess around with tracking animals after you shoot them. Like the Savage, at 8 pounds, it’s lighter than previous AR-10s, yet it features a billet-formed receiver, a 416R stainless steel, fluted- and chrome-line barrel, an excellent trigger, a buttstock design that minimizes weight but provides a solid cheek weld, a soft Hogue grip and two 10-round magazines. It’s got more rails and key mods than your mother’s got Christmas tree ornaments and comes with a carry case to boot. Inasmuch, this big boy’s AR is a bargain. MSRP: $1,699; jtactical.com.
3. Noveske Gen III Varmageddon .22 Nosler
Bullet maker Nosler (who also makes bolt-action rifles, loaded ammunition and proprietary cartridges) announced its new .22 centerfire cartridge it calls the .22 Nosler. Designed to best the ubiquitous 5.56/.223 Rem ballistically, it sends a 55-grain bullet at 3450 fps—that equals a flatter-shooting, harder-hitting AR-15. And when Nosler does something, rifle manufactures listen, because it likely won’t be a mere flash in the pan. Companies such as Noveske, Colt Competition, Proof Research and others plan to chamber barrels and rifles for this new caliber, but the fact is, all a consumer must do is swap out his AR’s barrel for a .22 Nosler barrel then buy a magazine that holds the 6.8 SPC round. Viola! They’ll now have an AR-15 chambered in .22 Nosler. For those who don’t have an AR-15 yet, however, look to Noveske’s Gen III Varmageddon rifle that features an 18-inch match grade barrel, a billet-formed receiver, Magpul stock and low profile handguard and rail. It’s a top-end AR at a premium price. MSRP: $2,869; noveske.com.
4. YHM HRC-200 Kryptek Highlander 6.8 SPC
While Yankee Hill Machine Company (YHM), with its storied history of building gun parts for the military, is no newcomer to the AR market, its updated HRC-200 rifle is unique in that it’s marketed specifically toward hunters. The Hunt Ready Carbine features Kryptec’s Highlander camo pattern, but more importantly, it’s chambered in a deer-and-wild hog-killing 6.8 SPC cartridge that sends a 120-grain bullet at 2450 fps, resulting in more energy than a .223 Rem. And because recoil remains mild, it’s easy to shoot accurately. I’ve tested this particular rifle, and it’s wonderfully accurate. It comes with a scope, sling and hard case, so all a hunter must do is zero and hit the woods. MSRP: $1,611; yhm.net.
5. DPMS Panther Arms GII Compact Hunter
DPMS built a reputation for some of the most accurate off the shelf .308-caliber MSRs out there, but it also realized the AR-10s drawback for hunters, and that is weight. So for 2017, the company unveiled the GII Compact Hunter, which features a collapsible stock and a shorter 16-inch barrel to reduce its weight to 7.75 pounds. As such, it’s one bad huntin’ rig. I like its carbon fiber handguard that doesn’t clank around the woods when you rest it. I wish it had a threaded barrel for a silencer, however, now that the Hearing Protection Act may make firearm suppressors legal. If you don’t have a suppressor, be thankful that the GII Compact Hunter doesn’t have a muzzle break to add length and noise. All in all, it’s a wonderfully useful and accurate rifle that could serve any American soldier, hunter or target shooter from now until he goes to heaven. MSRP: $1,499; dpmsinc.com.
6. CMMG MkW-15 XBE Anvil
If you like the idea of big bullets for big, tough hogs in a platform that can deliver them swiftly, accurately and silently (if you choose a suppressor), CMMG’s MkW-15 XBE Anvil rifle in .458 SOCOM should tingle your timbers. The round delivers a 250-grain bullet at 2,150 fps to produce nearly 2,560 ft.-lbs of energy—all from a cartridge that’s the same length as a .223 Rem. The Anvil packages this round in its 7.5-pound, 34-inch MkW-15 XBE rifle, which its gas system has been optimized for. I appreciate the full-length handguard and integral rail that can accept any and all of your crazy hog-hunting optics—and the fact that I can unleash 20 of these .45 caliber bullets almost as quickly as I can yell, “Holy herd of hogs!” CMMG’s guns are built from a solid billet of steel and feature excellent triggers, threaded barrels and adjustable Magpul stocks. MSRP: $1,949; cmmginc.com.
7. NEMO XO Carbon
NEMO Arms was one of the first companies to make an AR in .300 Win. Mag., but the only problem was, you needed Rambo arms to carry it. For 2017, the company dialed it down a hair with its XO Carbon rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. At the heart of the rifle is a carbon-fiber-wrapped Proof Research barrel that shaves weight while still giving the barrel rigidity and allowing it to cool swiftly. NEMO spared no expense in making this 8.2-pound rifle, what with its own intricately machined receiver, patented recoil-reducing bolt, two-position adjustable gas system (in case you choose to use a silencer or reduced recoil loads) and Geissele trigger. It’s chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, a marvelously efficient round that’s only a few hundred fps less potent than the venerable .270 Win. That spells disaster for any big game animal. Yes, the NEMO is expensive, but it sure is cool. MSRP: $4,300; nemoarms.com.
8. Smith & Wesson M&P 10 6.5 Creedmoor
When someone tells me they want an AR or a handgun without being too specific, I generally advise them to buy one from each from good ole Smith & Wesson and its M&P line. Now the company is also jumping onto the 6.5 bandwagon with its M&P 10 6.5 Creedmoor. Patterned after the Eugene Stoner designed AR-10 (that actually became before the AR-15), Smith & Wesson’s version features a full-length Magpul MOE stock—which I like for its combination of rigidity and comfort for enhanced long-range accuracy—and an expensive after-market Troy M Lok handguard. The M&P 10 6.5 Creedmoor’s 20-inch barrel is threaded and protected, and it comes with a 10-round magazine that allows resting the rifle without the magazine impeding it. At 9 pounds, it’s heavier than some others listed here, and it’s not cheap—but it’s awful nice. MSRP: $2,035; smith-wesson.com.
9. Sig Sauer M400 Predator
Sig Sauer’s M400 Predator is available in .300 Blackout—a round that sends a 120-grain projectile at 2,200 fps. for approximately 1,400 ft.-lbs. energy. While this is not a long-range round, it’s slightly better than a .223 Rem. for hogs and deer. While I don’t advise going subsonic for wild game (what’s the point?), this is where it dominates the 5.56 NATO, thanks to its heavier projectile. The M400 Predator features a 16-inch barrel, a full-length handguard with a forward Picatinny rail for mounting lights and lasers or your lucky talisman, and it’s threaded and protected for full suppression. It comes with a 5-round magazine for hunting, although it accepts any AR-15 pattern high-capacity mags. What I appreciate most—other than the rifle’s “Sigly” looks and no-nonsense features—is that with its 7-pound weight, 5-position telescoping stock and .300 Blackout chambering, it may be the perfect do-all truck-and-tuck gun that can be stored discreetly under the bed, then carried into the field as needed. It’s also priced reasonably. MSRP: $1,582; sigsauer.com.
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