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.