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When I reviewed the PWS Modern Musket Upper, I got some feedback in the comments that I hadn’t been fair in my ammo selection. Specifically, that I didn’t give it a fair shake with heavier projectiles. I got similar feedback from the folks at PWS who basically told me that every gun they’ve ever made has shot XM 855 poorly. So I hit up Dan for some ammo money and bought some better gun food to test. Sure enough, I got better results this time . . .

I ended up shooting seven different types of ammo over the course of my testing from 55 grain all the way to 77 grain projectiles. As I’d feared, the gun fared much better proving that I hadn’t done a thorough test the first time around. My apologies. Here are the targets after cutting, pasting, and running through analysis using OnTarget.

PWS Page 1 - OnTarget

PWS Page 2 - OnTarget

As before, all targets were shot indoors at 50 yards using the same optic, lower, and front and rear rest as before. In case the pictures above are hard to read, the results are presented in a table below.

Ammo Type Max (MOA) ATC (MOA)
Federal Premium GM 69 Gr SMKHPBT 1.782 0.737
Federal Premium GM 69 Gr SMKHPBT 1.206 0.433
Fiocchi Exacta 69 Gr SMKHPBT 1.594 0.672
Fiocchi Exacta 69 Gr SMKHPBT 1.977 0.741
Fiocchi Exacta 77 Gr SMKHPBT 1.306 0.466
Fiocchi Exacta 77 Gr SMKHPBT 1.450 0.562
Federal Fusion MSR 62 Gr Spitzer BT 1.947 0.604
Federal Fusion MSR 62 Gr Spitzer BT 1.901 0.654
Norma USA Match 77 Gr SMKHPBT 1.294 0.511
Barnes VOR-TX 55 Grain TSX 3.841 1.418
Black Hills Reman 55 Gr FMJ 2.642 0.978

My original assessment of accuracy said this:

Accuracy * * * *
Because it managed 1.688 MOA groups with fairly cheap brass-cased 55 gr. pills, I won’t give it a three star review. However, it flat out sucked with 62 gr. ammo, and I didn’t even try anything heavier. I’d imagine that it could go sub MOA with a better shooter and some premium ammo, but you’ll still be limited to the 55 gr class of projectiles. I had hoped that the 1:8 twist would stabilize the heavier bullets, but my experience did not show that.

My revised assessment is this:

Accuracy * * * *
The PWS Modern Musket appears to eat cheap PMC for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and consistently turning in sub 2 MOA groups. This is perfectly adequate accuracy for the weekend warrior, and carbine match competitor. However, if you need to stretch the legs a bit, you can shell out a bit more for the heavier loads from Fiocchi, Federal, or Norma and see sub 1.5 MOA groups. This isn’t mind blowing accuracy by any means, but it is more than adequate to warrant a solid four star rating.


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  1. Why were these groups not at 100 yards? 100 might not be the end all be all, but 50 yards doesn’t tell much.

    • My thoughts as well. You test your ammo at the range you plan to use it. If you are going to shoot 600 yards, test it at 600. I have heard many a story about short range super performance that did not pan out at the longer range when a guy’s score card didn’t reflect his testing on his latest load selection.

      • Here’s one story I bet you won’t believe! I spent 6 summers as a range officer at the National Matches at Camp Perry, OH. One year, we had two guys show up for long range matches, apparently convinced one or the other would go home with the prize, since they had been shooting together and comparing their results with records from the matches, and they were both just far superior to any of the past champions. When they failed to cut paper at 1000 yards, they were completely amazed and confused, so they decided to ask a few competitors how that could be.

        Turned out, all their training and practice had been on a 50 yard indoor range with proportionately reduced size targets. The handloaded ammo they were using would not even reach 1000 yards, but the concept never struck them. Wind? What about it?

      • “You test your ammo at the range you plan to use it.”

        So in other words, it was in fact perfectly acceptable to test a 16″ DI carbine/ fighting rifle at 50yds since this is hardly a long range bench gun or a mountain hunting rifle.

    • How could accuracy be better at 100 yards than 50? Do the bullets somehow stablize on their intended rather than actual path?

      It’s MOA, Angles, and the longer distance can’t be any better.

      • My thoughts exactly. And doing the testing in an indoor rifle range, which often do not exceed 50 yards, minimizes wind as a variable in the testing.

        • Depending on what scope he was using, and the parallax distance for that scope, then shooting at 50 yards COULD introduce aiming errors that would not happen at a longer distance where the scope’s parallax was zero. Even though the maximum possible error would be very small, when the group sizes were extrapolated to get MOA, it could very well have influenced the results in a negative manner. I’ve seen some darn poor groups from highly accurate rifle/scope/ammo combos, when they were fired at closer-than-normal distances. Parallax errors can be overcome by careful positioning of the head in relation to the scope, but unless the shooter is aware of potential parallax problems with a scope at closer ranges, in my experience, they probably won’t take steps to minimize same.

          In the first article, he referred to the scope as a “Bushnell 8x” (even though it looks like it has a tube-diameter objective lens?), and I can’t find any such scope to see what the parallax distance may have been set to at the factory (assuming it is non-adjustable for parallax).

        • Just found the scope he was using; it was that SMRS from Bushnell he tested recently, which does not seem to have an adjustment for parallax, so the scope could have contributed to aiming error at 50 yards.

          • I checked that as well and can confirm that I had a clear view of crosshairs and target simultaneously at the time of shooting.

        • Thanks for responding, Tyler.

          I need to ask, though; did you actually sandbag the gun on target at 50 yards, and then check for reticle movement in relation to the target’s aiming point by looking through the scope and moving your head side-to-side or up-and-down without touching the firearm? It has been demonstrated to me that it is possible to get the reticle and target both sharply in-focus, even if there is still parallax in the system, although I have not experienced it on my personal firearms. It is for this reason that I basically ignore any distance markings on adjustable-objective scopes and check for parallax at each known distance before shooting on a KD range, if ultimate accuracy (or accuracy testing) is the goal. Especially if your eyesight requires a major amount of focus adjustment, it’s not unusual to find that marked distances on a scope’s objective adjustment dial are 10% or more “off” of the true parallax-free setting.

        • @ Joel, “Aim small, Miss small” was the very FIRST thing I was taught once we were through the safety bit and the rifle was in my hands.

        • I hate it when a movie ruins a perfectly good saying. That saying has been around forever. It’s not even the first time it was used in a movie. “The patriot” used it in 2000. I had to quit using it then for a couple years because people would start talking about the movie and never did take any value in the saying.

      • I am with you on this one. If it can’t group better than that at 50 then I would hate to see this thing at 100. It is not going to magically go from a 2 MOA to a 1 MOA with the addition of yardage. The best you could hope for is not going wider but 55 grain 5.56 aren’t known for shaking off the wind.

    • Original groups were at 50. Didn’t want to add any undue variables to the follow up test.

      Future testing of rifles will be at 100 yards.

  2. 1. Props for going back and re-testing. That’s a level of integrity most reviewers won’t touch.
    2. I do sort-of question the original 4 star review… Is that level of performance really above average for black rifles? I’ve seen $500 PSA uppers do about that well with mil spec ammo.

  3. $900 is a lot of money for a 556 DI upper, you can get complete rifles for that. Unfortunately I threw it away but in American Rifleman recently there was a “cheap” AR (Mossy or DPMS?) that was rocking sub-moa averages in their 5×5 protocol. There was one about a year ago that prompted me to write to the editors of TTAC suggesting they should do an article on the justification for the price difference between a ~$750 AR that can do sub-moa and ~$2500+ SCARs that can’t.

    • Your mistake is trusting the reviewers in gun magazines to be honest about a gun’s accuracy. When was the last time that American Rifleman reviewed a rifle that was not sub-MOA. With the possible exception of Recoil*, there are no more gun mags that actually give objective reviews.

      *I’m still not sure about Recoil. I enjoy the articles, but I haven’t been reading long enough to decide how much I really trust them.

  4. Doesn’t really matter if its 100 or 50 yards. As long as the test conditions were the same (no wind factors, humidity and temp the same) the grouping data should be the same. 1.5 MOA at 50 yards should yield 1.5 MOA at 100 yards and ect. The only real variable is the shooter.

    I agree the 100 yard range is more traditional, but you’ll need a good magnified optic to see the rifles full potential, whereas at 50 yards the same can be achieved with a simple red dot or irons (if your eyes are up to it).

  5. Meh, half-ass accuracy, whole-ass price point. 7 bills with no BCG? I guess free float key-mod rails are this years lipstick on a pig.

  6. I have an old $500 Olympic “mil-spec” (by design 2 moa) completely stock rifle with a 16″ barrel that will shoot similar groups with moderate quality 55g ammo. It will eat any ammo including steel case without burping. It is over gassed by design for just that reason. Is it an especially good rifle? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    Good marketing by PWS, as the “Modern Musket” name gets my juices flowing. It is a sweet looking upper but obviously is an average shooting product. To each his own, but for +/-$900 with a little google fu you can buy a complete Noveske upper that will almost certainly shoot 1 moa groups all day long with the ammo above. I own two, one purchased straight off the shelve and one that I built.

    FWIW, in my experience, every AR I own ($500 Olympic to $2000+ Noveske) and I suspect this upper from PWS is more accurate than I am when shooting in a dynamic situation. Point is, get a decent reliable rifle that you can afford and learn to shoot it well.

  7. I like to see ARs tested with all sorts of ammo not just heavy slow match ammo. All the people I know who have ARs use them for hunting animals as well as target shooting.

  8. I have seen XM855 shoot 2-3 moa out of several rifles that will shoot close to 1 moa with moderately good XM193 ammo or under with match ammo. Green tip just doesn’t group for me. I’ve tried it in cheap 1-9 twist, mid-priced 1-7 twist, and match grade 1-8, and it just doesn’t like me.

  9. I would expect a $900 16″ upper to be able to turn in sub-MOA accuracy with more than one kind of ammo. A 1.9 moa average with nothing better than 1.2 moa is, at least to me, three star accuracy. It’s kind of odd to me that the rating stayed the same when the first four star rating was premised at least in part on the guess that the upper was capable of sub-moa accuracy. The update showed that testing more kinds of ammo increased the average group size significantly.

    Tyler, for short ranges like 50-100 yards you might want to try some good 50 or even 45 grain bullets. Many, if not most, ARs shoot light bullets better than heavy bullets at short ranges. As far as accuracy goes, it’s pretty common to not see returns on the heavy bullets until you get out past 200 yards. Once somebody passed that little tidbit on to me, I started shooting sub-moa short range groups pretty regularly.

  10. I’ve sold both .223 Wylde chambered barrels I owned after they were out-grouped handily by a new build with a Daniel Defense 14.5″ government profile chrome lined barrel… I shoot a lot of 193 and 855, which the DD barrel trounced the .223 Wylde barrels, one of which was stainless and “match”. My go-to is a 77gr 262 knockoff I handload. The DD barrel loves them and they are 1/2 MOA all day in my stainless 1:8 5.56 NATO barrel.

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