Smith & Wesson
The AR-15 rifle is arguably the most popular modern sporting rifle in existence. Contrary to popular belief, it originated as a civilian rifle in the late 1950’s and was later adopted at the standard issue military rifle in the early 1960’s under the moniker of M16, the true assault rifle. The rifle has been chambered in a number of different calibers ranging from .22LR to .50 Beowulf and everything in between. With Smith & Wesson’s foray into the AR market, they innovated the classic design as their own and have made some of the most accurate, reliable, and affordable AR-15’s on the market.
If you were to compose a list of the top ten greatest firearm innovators of all time, everyone knows John M. Browning would be #1. But there was a man by the name of Eugene Stoner that would easily be in the top five, but sadly, a lot of people still don’t have any clue who he is. Stoner, a former Marine, was hired by ArmaLite in 1954 as their chief engineer. He was asked to design and develop new small arm designs for the U.S. Military. Most of his first designs didn’t see much production, until he designed the AR-10. One of the breakthroughs was the use of aircraft grade aluminum and new innovations in plastics instead of the traditional walnut and steel. This allowed for a lighter firearm that was easier to carry and fire. It was chambered for the then new 7.62x51mm cartridge (.308 Win) and had better control overall in testing for fully-automatic fire than the prototype T44 rifle that later became the M14. Unfortunately, the M14 was adopted over the AR-10, and the rifle fell by the wayside.
In the late 1950’s, with the requests of the U.S. Military, both of Stoners chief engineers, Robert Fremont and Jim Sullivan designed the AR-15 from the basic AR-10 design and chambered it for the new 5.56x45mm cartridge. After the adoption of the rifle at the M16, Stoner sold the rights to the design to Colt and left ArmaLite in 1961. Colt became the chief manufacturer of M16 and AR-15 rifles up until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when other builders started licensing the design.
Fast forward to SHOT Show 2008. Smith & Wesson introduced their first two version of the AR-15, the M&P15 and the M&P15T, only difference being the ‘T’ model had a rail system and flip up sights. Since then Smith & Wesson has manufactured over two dozen different M&P15 rifles and many police departments around the country have adopted them as their standard rifles. The M&P15 Sport was introduced in 2011 as a ‘budget’ rifle and became one of their most popular models to date.
|Image copyright (c) Point-of-Aim Productions, 2013|
The M&P15 Sport is based off the standard AR-15 design in that it uses the tried and true direct gas-impingement design. The sports a standard 16” barrel with a basic hand guard and front sight/gas block. The barrel is the crown jewel of this rifle. It doesn’t use the regular government profile barrel but more of a medium contour barrel. The gas black sports a standard .75” thickness and the barrel is just a tad smaller. It also uses the unique 5R rifling system with a 1:8” twist rate instead of standard six-grove rifling with either a 1:9” or 1:7” twist rate. The 5R rifling has 5 groves that are tapered on each edge and are opposite with the lands instead of six groves that are opposite of each other. This is suppose to be less taxing on the bullet itself allowing for less deformity and better accuracy.
The sport model omits some standard features of the AR-15 that, in my opinion, aren’t needed. The first is the forward assist. While the bolt carrier group has the notches to accept a forward assist, the upper receiver resembles the original M16 in that it is “slick side” and has no forward assist. It also doesn’t have the dust cover for the bolt carrier group. Another omission that doesn't make that big of a difference. It comes standard with a flat top receiver and a Magpul MBUS rear sight, A2 grip and A2 birdcage flash hider. Also included is a standard, chrome lined bolt, carrier and gas key with a standard 6-position butt stock. Nothing special about this rifle cosmetically compared to other rifles, and the price reflects that.
Before I purchased the M&P15, I owned a Ruger SR-556 which in itself, is a great firearm. But it did have some shortcomings, which made me sell it and look for a new rifle. I had heard a lot of great things about the M&P rifles, among others, and read a lot about the Sport model. For $650, I couldn't pass it up. We used a plethora of ammunition to not only break in the rifle, but sight it in, and just test. We started with Black Hills ‘blue box’, Federal M193 and M855 military contract, Hornady steel match and v-max, as well as Wolf and Silver Bear. One thing that surprised me was how fast the barrel broke in. In LESS than 50 rounds, the barrel was broken in and ready for sighting in. I was shocked, to say the least. Most of the ammo we used were .223 Remington spec, so they were pretty mild with bullet weights between 52 and 55 grains. The Federal ammo, however is 5.56mm NATO spec, so they were much hotter, especially the M855. Even them being hotter, they were all VERY accurate. Since purchase, we have fired easily over 2000 rounds of ammunition out of the rifle, included hundreds of rounds of Wolf steel cased ammo... without a SINGLE malfunction. We had ZERO issues with Wolf ammo, or any steel cased ammunition for that matter. On top of that, the Wolf ammo was actually really accurate out to 100 yards. Now, when I say accurate, I don't mean half and inch at 100 yards. With iron sights, Wolf 55 grain FMJ ammunition printed a hair over 3” at 100 yards.... consistently. The Federal and Hornady ammo shot much better averaging about two and a quarter inches or better at 100 yards.
As a bug-out gun, the rifle was sighted in for 50 yards instead of 100. Obviously group sizes shrunk at 50 yards versus 100, but accuracy was TOP NOTCH. For a gun that only cost $650, I would have thought it should have cost well over $1000 with its accuracy. The sights were fine, basic A2 style front sight and Magpul rear. The trigger was nothing to write home about, but if you are keeping the M&P a ‘battle’ rifle, the 6.5lb trigger is fine with enough practice, you don't want a 3lb Geizzlle trigger (although they are amazing!) on anything besides a marksman rifle. The rifle is very light and very comfortable to shoot. The hand guards are smaller than standard AR-15 hand guards, but that is a welcome change. It is a simple, no frills AR-15 that shoots much better than anything in its price range.
|Image copyright (c) Point-of-Aim Productions, 2013|
The AR-15 is considered the “Man’s Barbie Doll” and it is very accurate. I changed A LOT of the rifle, just to taylor it to myself. There is nothing wrong with the stock rifle, but I love customizing things, and the AR-15 is the perfect platform to do so. The first to go was the collapsable stock. I added a Magpul STR stock for the added cheek weld and butt pad. It is a very comfortable stock, and I added it in Flat Dark Earth (FDE). Also added was a FDE Magpul MIAD grip to give my big paws a better grip on the rifle. An enlarged charging handle was added as well as the Magpul BAD level to help with fast reloads. The Magpul ASAP sling system and an MS3 sling we also added, but I have yet to really use those. On the front end of the gun, the A2 flash hider was replaced with the newest Surefire 5.56 muzzle break, which does and amazing job of reducing recoil and acts as amount for Surefire’s SOCOM Suppressors. The front sight base was replaced with a Yankee Hill low profile gas block and the hand guard was swapped for a Troy Industries 13” Alpha Rail. It is a low profile rail that is fully modular and very comfortable to hang onto. Also added were Troys “squid grips” in FDE that occupy the mounting holes similar to rail covers. Magpul rail sling mount and GEN2 front sight round out the custom features.
Accuracy didn’t change with the additions, and still shots spot on at 50 yards. The muzzle break was a great addition as was the rail, it is very comfortable to shoot free hand.
There isn’t enough that I can say about the Smith&Wesson M&P15 Sport. It is a solid platform, with superb accuracy and phenomenal reliability with any ammunition put through it. There are hundreds of other AR-15’s on the market, but none, in my opinion, can match the quality and accuracy for the price of the M&P15 Sport. If you are looking for a new AR-15, or even you first AR-15, you NEED to look at the M&P15 Sport.
Unfortunately, in todays political climate, MSRP has risen on the rifles and I have yet to see them lately for anything less than $1000, and they are very hard to come by. I think once everything cools down, and prices return to normal I would recommend picking one up and enjoying it as much as I have.