If you had asked me a couple years back what platform was the best for 3-gun competitions, there wouldn’t have been a moment’s hesitation from me — the AR-15 uber alles. But after spending a year with Team FNH USA and running the SCAR 16S exclusively in competitions, I’m starting to question that analysis. With that rifle, I’ve posted better scores and faster times than I’ve ever been able to before, and as this season is starting up I find myself facing a very important question: do I keep running the SCAR, or switch back to an AR-15? . . .
After my stint with Team FNH USA ended, a bunch of readers asked me that very question. And at the time I still hadn’t made a decision. They asked that when I do finally figure it out, I write up an article about how I decided, one way or the other. So for those who are curious, here you go.
I’m an analytical person. I don’t make judgements based on personal feelings, but rely on the facts. So when it came time to choose which rifle I was going to run this year, I decided to compare the pros and the cons of each gun and figure out which was best suited for my specific competition style.
The SCAR 16S
There are four things that the SCAR has in its favor, and those are four things that you should look for in any competition rifle: accuracy, reliability, durability, and felt recoil.
Despite the 16-inch pencil-thin barrel on the SCAR and the slim profile, the thing is a tack driver. Clover-leaf groups were not uncommon and I knew that anything over 1 MoA on my target was a result of either bad ammo or too much caffeine. I was skeptical at first, but when I ran the long-range stage at the Texas Multigun 100% clean, there were no longer any doubts about the rifle’s abilities.
Reliability is the second major benefit that you get with the SCAR. In an entire year of running the gun (and cleaning it twice, tops), I can count the number of malfunctions I’ve had with it on one hand — and even then they were caused by the ammo and not the gun.
I compete primarily in the dusty, dirty environment of the American southwest (and sometimes the high desert of Oregon), a place that really tends to put the reliability of a firearm to the test. I’ve seen more competitors taken out of the running when their firearm decided to stop working in the middle of a stage than I can remember, and avoiding that fate is high on my list of priorities. The SCAR keeps running when others don’t, and that’s a huge benefit.
Reliability and durability are two very different things. Reliability just means that the gun will keep running, but durability means that the parts won’t wear out anytime soon. My SCAR has definitely seen better days at this point from a cosmetic point of view, but all of the parts on the gun function just as well as they did the day I opened the box.
The barrel has lost none of its accuracy after the thousands of rounds I’ve shoved down it, the piston system is still functioning perfectly. There’s not a single thing wrong with the gun that I can find. Sure, there’s a bit of carbon built up here and there, but nothing a good scrubbing can’t fix. With other rifles I would already be facing a barrel change about now, but not with the SCAR.
Let me put it to you this way: I watched Mark Hanish slam a SCAR into a dump barrel so hard that it blasted through the barrel bottom into the dirt far enough that it stood on its own. And that same SCAR then proceeded to polish off the long-range stages of that competition with ease. Yeah, durable.
Felt recoil is the last major benefit. The rifle’s short-stroke gas piston system has a huge reciprocating mass in the form of a bolt carrier group that soaks up a lot of the recoil and keeps the muzzle on target. I find it extremely pleasant to fire, and when you add a silencer to the mix, the rifle…well, it just doesn’t move. At all. There is one drawback, though: it also creates a unique recoil pattern something akin to an air rifle that tends to destroy lesser optics. But in my experience, anything from Leupold seems to work just fine.
Accurate. Reliable. Durable. Soft recoiling. It’s just about perfect for competition shooting. But it does have some drawbacks, and the PWS Mk114 excels in those areas.
PWS Mk114 AR-15
I realize that PWS’s rifles aren’t exactly a “true” AR-15, especially since they use a proprietary piston operating system. But they still have many of the same benefits of the svelte AR-15 platform. Namely, the rifle is lightweight, slim, and easy to fix.
The difference in weight between a SCAR 16S and the PWS Mk114 is fairly significant. As in, a fully kitted-out PWS Mk114 with a full magazine (as shown above) weighs less than my competition SCAR 16S unloaded and sans optic.
A lightweight gun means the shooter has to use less effort to manhandle it around the course of fire, and less energy is wasted carting the gun around is more energy available to do things like running and thinking – both very important activities. But that weight savings comes at a cost, namely a pinned and welded flash hider. I’d like to crank my own silencer mount on there, but with the hider welded in place I’d prefer to keep the barrel just as it is rather than start monkeying with it.
Truth be told, the weight difference alone isn’t a compelling reason to choose one over the other. But throw in how that weight is distributed and it’s an absolutely massive difference. The SCAR 16S’s gas system operating parts are all located in the gas block, which is conveniently located pretty far out on the barrel. Take that large chunk of metal and add the bulky extended rails and you have a pretty big weight positioned at the end of a rather long lever. It makes holding the gun up a bit of a challenge for any protracted period of time. The PWS Mk114, on the other hand, has a very slim gas block and an extremely lightweight handguard which makes for a gun that’s easy as pie to keep on target in the standing position.
Another benefit of those slim handguards is that I can actually get my hand around them. With the SCAR handguards, they’re simply too big for me to wrap my mitts around. If I want to brace the rifle against a barricade, for example, I can’t properly clamp the gun in place because my hand isn’t big enough. With the PWS Mk114, I can get my entire hand around the handguards and it gives me a better ability to grip the gun and brace it against things. This, I like.
Not only is the handguard slimmer, but everything else about this gun is much more svelte as well. The SCAR adds a good half inch above the bore for the piston system and such, but with the PWS rifle, it’s no taller than any other AR-15 rifle.
Finally, the gun is easy to fix if something breaks. Admittedly I might not find a bucket of spare parts for the gas system in the local Walmart, but from the barrel to the safety selector, everything on this gun can be easily and quickly replaced with readily available parts. FNH USA only just started shipping replacement barrels, and while that’s definitely very nice, they’re still as rare as hen’s teeth.
So, which one?
It was the weight that tipped the scales in favor of the PWS Mk114 for me. The rifle might not be as accurate as the SCAR, but it’s close enough for competition shooting. And with less weight and a more compact rifle, that means there’s more room in the case for other stuff when I go flying off to national matches. Seriously, that’s really the only reason why I chose the PWS this time around. If someone comes out with a way to shave some pounds off the SCAR, we might have to re-visit the issue again.