Gun Review: Smith & Wesson M&P15 ORC

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (actually, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, in the Republic of Texas) Uncle Sam issued three things to me that I still remember as vividly as yesterday’s chili. The first was a pair of clunky, clumsy, heavy, hokey chukka boots. The second was – no lie – a pith helmet. The third was a black rifle.

I’ll never forget those boots because they pinched harder than my six year old cousin. Lynne could pinch like a lobster on steroids, but she had nothing on those boots. I’ll also never forget that ridiculous USAF-issued pith helmet. I didn’t care that it was 110 in the shade. I didn’t care that only things between me and heatstroke were salt tablets and my head cover. I hated that lame hat. I wanted to look sharp, like an Air Force recruit should. Instead, I looked like Ramar of the Jungle (That’s Ramar on the right below, holding his .300 Weatherby brontosaurus rifle. Note that Ramar’s faithful manservant, Rex the Wonder Idiot, is shouldering the .22).

However, the absolute worst kick in the nuts I ever got from the USAF was that M-16. Like any other teenager, I enlisted to save America and blow shit up, and not necessarily in that order. But instead of the heavy ordnance I craved, the USAF handed me a tin and plastic made-by-Mattel tinker-toy of a peashooter. Hey, I already had a “synthetic” rifle back home, a .22 Remington Nylon 66. What I wanted was a real rifle made of real American hardwood and real Pittsburgh steel that shot a real bullet and kicked like a donkey.

I would have been overjoyed by a rifle like the Garand that my old man carried as he personally invaded Fortress Europe and saved the universe from fascism, which he did all by his damn self. I certainly was not overjoyed to be shouldering a glorified squirrel gun that maybe could save the world from, what? An attack by angry bunnies?

My second impressions upon handling the M-16 were even worse than my first impression upon viewing it. The rifle rattled like an old Fiat and was a lot less powerful, even with the “hot” 5.56 military ammo. Was it accurate? Hell, no. I was a good shot with a real rifle, but I barely qualified with the M-16. I could drop a round through a keyhole at fifty yards with my well-used Remington plinker. With my M-16, every third or fifth shot keyholed.

Our TIs (the USAF had “Technical Instructors,” not Drill Instructors) lauded the “ballistic wounding effects” of the 5.56, and believe me I was tempted to test the theory on one or two of them. But every tenth shot went the way of Apollo 13, so I’m not sure I could have put a round between the TIs buttons even if I’d chosen to try. I’m pretty sure that some rounds that I fired on the range are still in near-earth orbit and if they ever come down, somebody in San Antone is gonna be screwed.

To be fair, I admit that full-auto fire with the M-16 was totally cool even though I only got to shoot a single burst. Also, I never suffered any jams, unlike my friends who were slogging through rice paddies, cleaning their rifles with shoelaces and thirty-weight. But even for us well-equipped recruits, cleaning the M-16 was a bitch.

It remains my personal belief that Eugene Stoner lived up to his last name while he was inventing this rifle. I mean, nobody but nobody who hadn’t spent all his adult years shotgunning ganja could possibly have developed a rifle with so many carbon-hiding, soot-catching, impossible to reach nooks, crannies, cracks and crevasses. Which gave my TIs ample opportunity to cause me more grief than a Dear John letter if they found so much as one flyspeck of crud anywhere near my rifle. Which they always did. Stoner, you were either a mad genius or the spawn of Satan, or both.

After a single day with the M-16, I asked myself the same question that haunted enlistees throughout the entire Vietnam era, namely, “did I really give up my student deferment for this bullshit?” Then I remembered that the USAF went to war with B-52s and bombs the size of Trailways buses, which was very reassuring. Also, I must say with a touch of pride that not one single Viet Cong managed to cross the Rio Grande on my watch.

Slow-forward over four decades and there I was with my hands cuddling my very own Smith & Wesson M&P15 ORC. A gift from my sweetheart, it’s a traditional, typical civilian AR-15 style clone of a military M-16 clone of the original AR-15 civilian rifle. You follow me? So how does it compare with the M-16A1 I fired way back when?

Comparisons

The old M-16A1 had an impractical carry handle and practical iron sights. The sights worked fine with my acute teenage vision, but if I had to depend on iron sights now I’d probably chew a hole through the berm before I chewed through a target.

The handle of the M-16 served no useful purpose except giving the TIs a reason to bust our agates if we used the handle for its avowed purpose. In contrast, the ORC is a flat top with a Picatinny rail on the receiver and a shorter Pic-rail on the gas block, so it lacks the iconic M-16 look. And that’s not all it lacks.

The OR in stands for “Optics Ready,” which really means “bring your own sights, bub, ‘cause with this rifle you get squat.” No irons, no scope, nada. The “C” in ORC stands for “Compliant,” which probably means that one can purchase this evil black rifle in the various People’s Republiks that dot the American landscape.

While I may not able to get much mileage from iron sights, I think they should still be included in the deal. Thus, I suggest the S&W change the name to “Optics Ready Complaint.” Hey, S&W, slap on some BUIS. Pretty please.

The M-16A1 had a slow twist rate, either 1:14 or 1:12, which was probably the reason for the bullet’s “spectacular wounding effects” and also the historic inaccuracy of the early models. The M&P’s twist rate is 1 in 9, which led me to believe that, with the right ammo, it might shoot a little straighter despite its 16 inch carbine barrel.

The M&P has a chromed bore, gas key, bolt carrier and chamber. The M-16 had nothing chromed, probably because the bean counters running the Pentagon didn’t want to spend an extra sixteen cents on chrome when they were spending so much money on Purple Hearts.

The fixed stock of the old M-16A1 never seemed to fit me right. Of course, length is less relevant when the stock is adjustable. Unfortunately, in Massachusetts, shooters are stuck with fixed or pinned stocks because adjustable stocks are evil. Flash hiders and suppressors are evil, too, so you won’t find them screwed onto the muzzles of Massachusetts-legal rifles. Oh, well.

At least the A2 stock of the M&P, with its standard 13.5 inch length of pull, suits me just fine. Plus, it has that little Captain America Secret Decoder Ring Compartment in the stock where one can hide one’s stash. Of cleaning supplies. For the field. Or even a spare car key. Or a little note that says, “if found, please return to . . .”

What’s New Year’s Eve without fireworks? Boring, that’s what. So, carbine in hand, I scavenged a cheap, uh, inexpensive Tasco scope, clamped it to the rail, slipped into some chukka boots that actually fit and headed out to the outdoor rifle range to blow some stuff up and relive my misspent youth.

Shooting Impressions

After the scope was boresighted, I fired a magazine of American Eagle 55 grain FMJ .223s – they were on sale – using the standard break-in protocol of cleaning and letting the barrel cool between shots (not very difficult in the dead of winter). The target was set at 100 yards. Weather conditions were chilly and blustery, and except for a little fun and gun with Farago last month, I haven’t shot a rifle in over 43 years. I was expecting a big fat whiff of M-16 déjà vu, but what I got was this nice ten-shot group.

Now, I recognize that there are hot shooters out there who can place ten rounds into a mouse’s rectum at 1000 meters, but I’m not one of them. So I was very pleased with the out-of-the-box accuracy of this carbine and expect that as we get to know each other, the groups will become tighter and more centered on the red.

The fact is, the M&P15 ORC is a good shooter, although perhaps not spectacular. The trigger is heavy and it’s not exactly pure silk, but I sensed neither creep nor grit. It perfectly serviceable. I like a little take-up on a rifle trigger, but the M&P ORC had a bit more than a little. It’s a typical S&W trigger, middle-of-the-road, neither good nor bad and cost half a star. Reset was quick and positive.

Recoil was a touch more than expected. It was a tad loud for an AR, which I kinda liked and certainly got the attention of the 7.62X39 shooters around me.

The C-Products magazines feel tinny, but they work. The stock was comfy, at least for me. Short- or long-armed shooters may have complaints, and you may need a different stock if you’re storming your neighbor’s home in full body armor, but I have no complaints stock-wise.

Cleaning the Bitch

Ah, there’s the rub. Did Stoner actually design the AR’s guts to be the same color as soot? I mean, was it an accident, or did he screw us on purpose? Like most gas-impingement ARs, the M&P gets dirty. If you are a clean-gun freak like me, you’re going to need a bore snake, lots of patches, cloths, picks, brushes, bottles of exotic solutions and magnifying glass to get this rifle white-glove clean.

When you get your rifle back to your work bench after a day of shooting, you will notice that it smells like a wet cigar. I’m not talking Cuban cigar, either. Think DeNobile. You will want to get rid of that smell.

Fortunately, break-down is cake. Push the two pins holding the upper and lower together and you’ll have two separate parts. Cleaning the lower takes moments. Then go to work on the upper. Snake the bore until it sparkles. That’s the easy part. The bolt assembly, with its little hidey-holes inside and out, is a PITA to clean and it’s where you will spend the most time. Get into the habit of using latex or rubber kitchen gloves or you’ll have the hands of a chimney sweep. Or, you can be a slob and just shoot the hell out of this rifle because it will still work whether or not you are scrupulous, or so I’m told.

Conclusion

The S&W M&P15 ORC lists for a bit more than a grand, but the dealer price will be less and maybe a lot less. Shop around, because at the usual actual typical price, it’s a solid performer. Affix a decent scope or red dot sight, and this rifle will shoot better than you. What more can you ask for?

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber:  5.56 NATO / .223
Barrel Length:  16″
Weight (unloaded):  6.25 lbs
Length (overall):  35″
Action:  Semi-Auto
Rifling:  1/9″ RH

Barrel Material: 4140 steel

Receiver Material: 7075 T6 aluminum upper and lower
Stock:  Pinned M4
Rails:   Picatinny rail on A3 flat top upper and short rail on gas block for mounting iron front sight
Sights:  None
Magazine:  C-Products 10 rd.
Finish: Hard Coat Black Anodized

RATINGS (out of 5 stars)

Style * * * *
If you like the looks of AR rifles, you’ll like the looks of this AR rifle since it looks like almost every other AR rifle. If you want something that looks completely different, don’t buy an AR or paint yours pink.

Ergonomics * * * *
No surprises. The controls are exactly where you expected them to be.

Reliability * * * * *
No problems even with cheap Russky .223 ammo, which I fed to this AK-killer just for the irony of it.

Customization * * * * *
C’mon. It’s an AR, so your choices are as unlimited as your wallet. New uppers, lowers, rails, sights, lights, lasers, apple corers, you name it. However, I recommend against accessorizing with diamond drop earrings or lavender pumps. Those would be too, too déclassé.

Overall * * * *
This isn’t a competition rifle, but it’s certainly more than capable of alternate dispute resolution or varmint hunting.