Gun Review: Mossberg MVP Varmint

There’s something to be said for using teeny tiny bullets zipping along amazingly fast for taking out small game. Especially when your target is similarly zipping across the field in front of you, being able to hit that moving target is made much easier with faster rounds. Varmint hunters have known this for ages, and that knowledge has popularized calibers such as the .204 Ruger and .223 Remington (the lightweight versions) for small game. And that’s where Mossberg’s MVP comes into the picture . . .

It seems like Mossberg has been trying to work their way into the rifle hunting market for a while now. Mossberg’s shotguns are well known and well loved for everything from home defense to bird hunting, but their rifle line has been downright nonexistent until more recently. With the introduction of the 100 ATR and the Mossberg MMR, Mossberg started making their way into the market for larger game, and the MVP seems to be Mossberg’s effort to get into small game as well.

The MVP was unveiled at NRA 2011, and TTAG was on the scene, not that we paid much attention at the time. In fact this is the only picture I snapped of the rifle at the time. I believe the original thought I had when I saw it was “gimmick” and the reason was the magazine.

This rifle, while using a bolt action, takes standard AR-15 magazines. And the reasoning is actually pretty sound — it lets you load up your rifle with a ton of ammo and reign death and destruction down on your chosen hunting grounds for longer without reloading. If you’ve got the perfect vantage point for annihilating a bunch of gophers you don’t want to be caught having to reload while the last one gets away and ruins your golf course, and this rifle gives you that ability. Its an interesting feature, but as we’ll see it may not be the most useful thing to have on your gun.

Wait a second…

This rifle takes standard AR-15 magazines…

I wonder if…

MUHUHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ahem. Yes, apparently a Surefire high capacity magazine will fit. Good to know. Moving on . . .

So, what other features does this rifle have, other than taking an AR-15 mag? Well, the bolt (or at least the handle and firing pin assembly) seems to come straight from the short action 100 ATR — with some slight modifications.

The AR-15 magazine was designed to sit much lower in the receiver than normal hunting rifles, and so the next cartridge coming off the magazine is a little bit too low for a normal style bolt to pick up. Mossberg’s solution to this problem wass to design a bolt with a lower half that splits open and a lower section that digs down into the magazine to grab that next round.

The impact of having a magazine that sits that low is no bueno for reliability. I had more than a few instances where the round ended up off center and the bolt failed to chamber the round on the first try. I get the feeling this is due to the spring in the mag “popping” the round up as it leaves the feed lips, causing the round to lodge slightly sideways rather than feeding smoothly into the chamber.

The bolt itself looks great at first glance — the handle feels nice and grippy and it looks very pretty — but once in action, it’s not as pleasant as it would seem. It takes more force to get the bolt open than I’d like, requiring a firm grip on the bolt handle to crack the thing open rather than giving me the ability to simply use the side of my hand as I prefer. That’s not to say it’s terrible, just very heavy for such a light and small caliber.

Other things lifted from the 100 ATR series include the trigger, which uses that two stage “LBA” or “Lightning Bolt Action” design with the little metal bit that sticks out in front. It’s a popular design for the trigger of budget priced guns these days and it works pretty well. The trigger itself is adjustable from “OH GOD” to “dangerously light.”

Sure, there are also the factory standard weaver mounts. We could talk about them as well, but far and away, the best thing about this gun is the stock.

If you know me and my rifle reviews, you know the one thing that pisses me off more than anything is a bad cheek piece — specifically, one too low for a rifle that was designed from day one to use a scope.

When I saw this stock, it was like the heavens opened up and I could hear angels singing. With the right cheek weld, I could actually get a proper sight picture through my scope. It was perfect. Perfect in a way that, normally, you’d need to invest in a replacement stock or a cheek riser to get on a factory gun. Kudos to you, Mossberg.

OK, this review is getting a bit long, so let’s dump some more facts on you, rapid-fire style. There are sling studs so you can mount a bipod (or actually use them for a sling, I guess). The barrel is 24 inches long with a 1:9 twist for light projectiles and while it’s a VERY heavy profile, it does have some fluting for weight reduction and barrel harmonics black magic. There’s a nice target crown for precision shooting. And the laminate stock is free floating, with grippy panels on both sides of the fore-end as well as the grip. That just about covers it, I think.

But the real question is how well the thing shoots.

This WAS a 1 MoA 50 yard 3-round group, but as is becoming a tradition, the last two shots made it a 2 MoA group instead. With the right ammo and some patience I have no doubt that this gun will perform at 1 MoA or better. In fact, after this I went on to put about 40 rounds on a steel target 250 yards away one after another within a 10 minute time period. The barrel was blazing hot, but the PoI hadn’t shifted noticeably at all, thanks to the heavy barrel profile.

When I first saw this gun, “gimmick” was the word that came to mind. And, for the most part I think that holds true. The AR-15 magazine compatibility is nice, but in the end it seems to cause more problems and slow the shooter down more than a custom designed detachable magazine would.

But on the other side of the coin, the idea of using a standard AR-15 magazine for a varmint rifle is pretty ingenious. Instead of having to design an all new magazine that may or may not be available in the future, Mossberg went with a magazine that would definitely be available for MVP customers for years to come, no matter if the rifle was a success or a flop. And THAT is pretty smart.

Here’s the thing, though. If I wanted a fast-shooting, high capacity rifle for varmint hunting, I’d grab an AR-15 instead. Sure, it might not be as accurate or push rounds as fast, but it won’t be a one trick pony like this rifle here. You don’t even have to go far to find a suitable replacement — the Mossberg MMR is a pretty damn good choice.

If your state restricts your groundhog shooting playtime to bolt action rifles, this is a good option. But if you’re free to shoot what you want, you might want to consider your alternatives.

Mossberg MVP Varmint 27700

Specifications:

Caliber:           5.56x45mm NATO (test rifle in .204 Ruger)
Barrel:            24″
Overall:          43″
Weight:          7.75 LBS empty
Capacity:       10 rounds (included), takes standard AR-15 magazines
Sights:            Weaver mounts pre-installed
MSRP:            $668 (about $500 street)

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative to other similar guns, and the final score IS NOT calculated from the constituent scores.

Accuracy: * * * * *
Free floating, long and HEAVY barrels tend to get this kind of rating. My group was a little rushed, but with some time and patience you can definitely get 1 MoA or better.

Ergonomics (Handling): * * * *
The magazine release is a little awkward, but otherwise a solid rifle.

Ergonomics (Firing): * * * *
Very nice indeed. Almost no recoil. But the bolt is rather tough to cycle.

Reliability: * *
There’s something about the combination of a heavy follower spring in the magazine and a funky bolt design that keeps this from chambering 100% of the time.

Customization: * * *
There’s not much you can do other than throwing in a different magazine or mounting a new scope. The trigger is adjustable (which is nice) but there aren’t really any aftermarket parts yet.

Overall Rating: * *
The magazines and the stock put it ahead of the competition, but the reliability issues and the sudden realization that for about the same money you can have a Remington 700 or a little more for a Mossberg MMR that will do the job just as well means (according to the rubric) that two stars is the best I can do.

Manufacturer’s website

Full Disclosure: This rifle was provided by Mossberg for the purposes of reviewing for the site. It is en route back to Mossberg.

Special thanks to Dutra Arms in Spring Branch, TX for being an awesome FFL!