I think it’s safe to say the AR-15 boom is behind us. But we’re still seeing its shockwaves ripple through the firearms industry. Case in point: the Savage MSR or “Modern Savage Rifle” series: four models of semi-automatic firearms based on the AR-15 design. The MSR 15 Recon is their top-of-the-line 5.56 NATO chambered version.

 

Savage is a company I never thought I’d see put out an AR-15 rifle. They built their brand on rock-solid bolt action rifles. Moving from super accurate budget bolt guns to [typically] less accurate semi-auto platform is something of a leap. Seen in context, though, the move makes sense.

Alongside SIG SAUER and Remington Outdoors, Vista Outdoors is one of the few truly vertically integrated firearms companies. Their Savage MSR bolsters sales from other brands within the Vista ecosystem: Bushnell scopes, BLACKHAWK! furniture and silencers, Federal Premium ammo, Hoppe’s cleaning supplies and more.

The Savage MSR is a showcase for how their family of products can come together to make something work and work well — a good reason buy their products for years to come. Providing, that is, it’s done right.

On the outside the Recon shows promise. Starting at the front there’s a 16-inch standard profile barrel with a birdcage flash hider freely floating within an M-LOK handguard.

The birdcage flash hider makes sense — it’s a good “default” muzzle device and easily forgotten once you get your direct thread BLACKHAWK! silencer. Alternatively, you can replace it with your choice of muzzle.

Using a standard profile barrel is a smart move. It makes the Savage MSR light yet provides more accuracy than a featherweight profile barrel. On this gun, Savage opted for a mid-length gas system. It generates a slightly more subdued recoil impulse than the purposefully over-gassed carbine length systems, and it’s more reliable than the rifle length system on a 16 inch barrel. Solid choice.

Savage went with a 1:8 twist rate rifling profile which is great for stabilizing a broad range of projectiles, from heavier 75gr slugs to lighter 55gr pills. The.223 Wylde chamber cut combines the best parts of .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO. It sports a longer throat length that allows heavier bullets to seat properly without compressing the cartridge.

The DPMS RECON rifle I reviewed a couple weeks back — a direct competitor to the Savage MSR — was fitted with the older style Picatinny rail hand guard – too bulky and jagged. The Savage MSR’s M-LOK style allows for the same level of customization with a much slimmer profile and a much more comfortable grip. Right answer.

Savage modified the standard AR-15 receiver set. The lower receiver features an integrated triggerguard and some interesting sculpting on the magazine well. The upper receiver’s ejection port has seen some work as well. Having tested more than my fair share of AR-15 rifles I like it when a gunmaker spices-up the formula, especially when it doesn’t impact interoperability.

The Savage MSR’s grip and the buttstock are straight out of the BLACKHAWK! catalog. In fact, the Magpul PMAG is only thing that isn’t made by a Vista family.

Savage is known for their excellent triggers. Their “AccuTrigger” is such a selling point that they bring a gigantic functioning model of it to every trade show they attend. You’d think that a company famous for their triggers would distinguish itself in the trigger they put in their new line of MSRs. They didn’t.

The trigger that comes with the top-of-the-line MSR Recon was a surprisingly bad eight-pound affair. Pressing the trigger slowly and smoothly revealed more stuttering than the first act of The King’s Speech. There was nothing resembling a clean break. The trigger creeped along and eventually released the hammer whenever it felt like it.

Needless to say, this has a negative effect on accuracy.

I tested the Savage MSR with the thoughtfully provided 1-4x Bushnell scope, but that didn’t give me adequate magnification for accuracy. So I slapped on the standard 3-9x scope I use for firearms testing and hit the range. I used a variety of ammunition, eventually settling on Federal Premium Ammunition’s Fusion MSR rounds for consistency.

Out on the 100-yard fixed distance range this was the best group I had all day. It’s a roughly 1 MoA group, which meets my personal “1 MoA for $1k” minimum accuracy requirements. But not by much.

Here’s what’s so frustrating.

The Savage MSR could do a lot better with a proper muzzle device and a good trigger. If Savage had spent just a little more time on the trigger (or swapping it for a readily available superior product already on the market) we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Again, the fact that a company which prides itself on trigger perfection missed the mark so spectacularly on their new-to-the-market MSR has me thoroughly confused.

Despite that trigger, though, the Savage MSR is a solid competitor for the “Recon” market in this price range. Compared to the DPMS Enhanced Tactical RECON the Savage has a better handguard at a lower price point. That’s the real kicker here: while the DPMS has a better trigger, replacing a trigger is a lot cheaper and easier than replacing a handguard.

So for the budget-minded shooter looking for a good solid foundation AR-15, the Savage MSR Recon is an excellent choice.

Specifications: Savage MSR Recon

Caliber: .223/5.56 (.223 Wylde chamber)
Finish: Matte black hardcoat anodized receiver and Melonite QPQ barrel
Barrel Length: 16.125 inches, 1:8 twist
Weight: 7 lbs
Length: 33.5” – 36.75”
MSRP: $999 MSRP

 

Ratings (out of five stars): 

Style and Appearance * * * *
Pretty slick. Not 100 percent happy with the BLACKHAWK! stock, but that’s just my personal taste.

Accuracy * * *
Fix the trigger and the rifle would be one of the more accurate offerings in this price range. As is, it’s okay.

Reliability * * * * *
Zero issues of any kind.

Overall * * * *
Fix the trigger and you’d have a great gun. I’d also change the flash hider, slapping on a muzzle brake of some sort. Otherwise it’s a damn fine AR straight out of the box, for under $1k.

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28 Responses to Gun Review: Savage MSR 15 Recon

  1. My problem with the $1000+ AR market is that you can build pretty much any one of them for less. I could basically build this exact rifle with a better trigger for around $800, which leaves a lot of cash left over for ammo. This is just my personal opinion, and I have no issues with other folks buying them, just saying that this is the price range where the do it yourselfer really starts to get the edge.

    Admittedly, prices in the wild will likely be more competitive.

    • Yeah I imagine you can probably find some very good deals. When the AR glut started I bought a stag arms with an MSRP of 1200 for 800.

    • Once you start buying tools it’s not going to be cheaper. So if you only want one AR then buying makes sense.

      • Fair enough, but if AR-building is a hobby or you build more than one, or use those tools for multiple purposes/firearms, then the cost per use drops quickly. Plus, you can find some nice budget-tools out there if you’re willing to wait and search. You can also take it to a gun range/smith for assembly. Many don’t charge much for AR-work because it’s so simple and quick. The local gunsmith at my range only charges $20 for AR mods.

      • I literally built my AR with a pair of needle nose pliers, a punch and a rubber mallet. My LGS installed the barrel for free. No specialized tools are necessary.

        • Same here (punches, pliers, mallet, torque wrench)…having an armorer’s wrench definitely would have made assembly a little bit easier, but it was by no means necessary. Of course the wrench isn’t that expensive anyway. I spent around $800 to build mine; from reading forum threads and comments, $800 seems to be about the standard amount the build-it-yourself crowd spends to make a $1K+ AR. Now that the craze/fad is over, I bet I could’ve built it even cheaper.

      • I absolutely agree, if you are only going to have one, either buy a whole upper or a whole gun. The only special tools needed are for the upper, every thing else is pretty much tool free, though it saves a lot of frustration to get a tool to help install the front take down pin detent.

    • Agreed. Aside from finding the parts you want- ie: 223Wylde chamber on a 16″ 1:8 twist barrel- at the price your budget allows(admittedly a very low budget)the hardest part is being patient and diligent about looking for deals. That said, this upper on most home-grown lowers would probably be great.

    • All fair points but I think the reason for the market being as it you are seeing it today is that the vast majority of people won’t/don’t build a rifle because they have no idea how, don’t know how to find out, and probably don’t want to be bothered.

      People constantly talk about how easy it is, that AR’s are Legos for adults but forget that we now live in a society where most people couldn’t change their own oil if their life depended on it.

      Personally I find it somewhat distressing but off the top of my head I can think of a dozen people I know that own an AR and would be puzzled if you handed them a ratchet and a socket for it, nevermind wanted them to put the socket on the ratchet and do something with it.

      It’s just the state of current society that people don’t understand much about the things they own and, really, they don’t much seem to care. They’d rather pay more for something that works out of the box.

      • I think you’re right. I am by no means mechanically inclined but I always like learning how things work. A couple of years ago when I built my first AR, I did it simply for the cool factor of saying that I did it myself. A couple of minutes clicking around on Youtube and watching CMMG’s great video on assembling a LPK though and I did it no problem. I think for a lot of people, it’s all about desire. It’s always fun shooting that new buy right out of the box and I’d never be down on anyone for it…but something about the one you built yourself, you get the same thrill plus the satisfaction of knowing you made a tack-driver that runs like hell.

      • Sometimes I wonder about the mechanical ability of the younger generation.

        At least some are brave enough to try it, no matter how daunting it might seem to do complex mechanical work like locking the retaining spring on a broken hood ornament, lifting the broken ornament out of the car, dropping the new ornament into the hole, and unlocking the spring on the new ornament….
        https://thegarage.jalopnik.com/i-fixed-the-most-important-thing-on-my-mercedes-benz-1795309121

        • I think some of that has to do with an attitude presented in the schools and by society at large. In schools the trades are frowned upon (apparently so are math, history, economics, science and most other useful bits of knowledge).

          A few years back my old roommate and I tore a ’91 F250 with an ’89 5.0 EFI motor in it down to the frame rails, rebuilt the motor and put it all back together. Our Hispanic neighbor, who owned his own tile setting business, thought it was cool as hell. All our white neighbors thought it was stupid. One lady even said to me “Ugh, that’s the kind of work you pay poor people to do” before she walked off (which was really rather pathetic since she wasn’t exactly living high off the hog herself). That same lady then called Code Enforcement on us over the truck. We were out at NAPA getting a new water pump for the truck, came back and found a notice on our door that if the truck wasn’t back together and moved (proof it wasn’t disabled) in seven days we’d get fines totaling $10K. Six days of late evening after work and she was back up and running even though most of the neighbors told us that doing so was unpossible. (Oh, and we’re both millennials, which might be why they said such things.)

          I also note, that while you’re correct about YouTube and online research in general, your average person has basically zero capacity to research anything.

        • That’s what you pay poor people to do…and that right there is the wrong attitude that is affecting a lot of the country. I love working on things myself, specifically helping buddies do stuff like rebuilding the truck. Even if all I am is an extra set of hands, I try to learn something and just be there to help. That used to be what men did together. Also, it shows some ignorance on your neighbor’s part. Most skilled tradesman earn as much or more than many college-educated folks. In many cases they have to put in more hours, but they make their money. In fact, the way things are now, if I had a teenager about to graduate from school, if they were at all interested in learning a trade, I’d steer them towards that over a university.

        • How much do you want to bet that she called Code Enforcement thinking “I’ll show those stupid kids” just because she thought we were stupid for doing it?

          She didn’t call Code Enforcement on anyone else for anything, including having a car up on blocks in their driveway for damn near a year and we did 95% of the work in the garage.

          “Uneducated, uninformed, ill prepared and uninterested” describes a great number of people in this country at this point.

      • I am mechanically inclined, have an abundance of tools which allow me to work on and/or fix just about anything I care to work on. Only, I’ve never built an AR or, really done even the most minor gunsmithing. I’d love to see an article on TTAG about choosing uppers, lowers, barrels, triggers, etc. and putting them together to complete a nice AR pattern rifle. I can easily see this being a multi-part article or even a yearly update. Just sayin’.

  2. I hope Savage reads this. Want to know how to stand out by producing something different? Make the 556 gun with a side charging, left hand side upper like you did with your 308 offering. That with an accurate trigger under $1000 and you’ll sell some rifles. One of them to me.

    • I don’t think all that many people are clamoring for a left side charging AT. Kind of a small niche.

  3. I’m beginning to think manufacturers in the AR platform market should have a “triggerless” option for $100 less than whatever crappy trigger they normally include.

    That would allow customers to drop in whatever trigger they like.

    Sure, there are plenty of other parts on an AR that could be replaced with aftermarket, but none of them are as important as a decent trigger.

    • That’s a good idea, kind of like Colts offering that just has the core of the rifle, without furniture or other things people regularly swap out.

    • $100 less? Those crappy triggers probably cost them $15. They could sell a minus trigger model for minus $15.

  4. I’ll never understand the terrible trigger on the premium rifle thing. I shelled out $1750 for my SR-762 and it had about an 8 pound trigger in it from the factory.

    • You can switch the springs to JP red enhanced reliability spring set and slightly polish contact surfaces and bring that eight down to 4ish lbs with $11 and 11 minutes of time.

  5. Glad to see that Savage has made another fine rifle and good for them for going with the midlength system. I never even considered myself a Savage guy, but I’ve been shooting them my whole life and they truly are rock solid as the author noted. I’m not a buyer for the MSR, but I hope they sell a lot.

  6. I’m nonplussed that a company rightfully renowned for excellent out-of-the-box triggers would make a rifle with a trigger that’s run-of-the-muck.

  7. $1,000???? This gun is available for under $800 in multiple locations. Do an interwebs search. Personally, I’ll keep building my own the way I like them. Some are more expensive and some are much less – it all depends on what I want. The Savage isn’t a bad carbine but the trigger is an issue – like 90% of all AR’s in this price range.

  8. I purchased mine at my local gun store (in Illinois) for $845 total. I’m surprised at Leghorn’s comments about the trigger. The trigger on mine is absolutely awesome, no creep and breaks like glass at 5.8lbs. The slim free-float rail make the gun handle and look great, it really feels like a custom gun compared to any other AR in it’s price range. I love mine.

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