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SCAR 16S, c Nick Leghorn

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.

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  1. come on guys, 3-gun is only for $1.5k and up rifles. stop kidding yourselfs, you loser poors. I bet you don’t even wear 5.11 gear every day


    • Sweet, sweet ear damage/splitting headaches.

      Stickin to the Mosin Trinity:

      Mosin converted to shotgun.

  2. Neither, though I’m sure both are nice guns and I bet that 14.5″ barrel is super handy on the PWS (I quite like the JP GMR’s handiness in that configuration) on the close stuff.

    I’d choose JP15 with the low mass system 18″ barrel and adjustable, rifle length gas system. ‘Cause that’s what I did choose. It’s my opinion that the piston systems aren’t needed on a game gun. Mine gets cleaned before matches, but left dirty between practices.

      • +1, hang all that kit on your body, sling your gat, and do pull ups.

        I would have bet money nick would have picked the scar given the previous article fanfare, surprised indeed

  3. Oh noes, I have to hold a moderately weighty rifle for relatively brief periods of time during all these totally awesome shooting competitions that I love going to, whatever shall I do? I’d better choose a slightly lighter but also awesome rifle instead. I envy your problems, I really do.

    • I envy how much I’d rather be reading a gun or gear review right now as opposed to this navel-gazing.

  4. I really prefer the AR for 5.56/ .223, and the prefer a SCAR 17 for .308. Just a personal thing, can’t go wrong with a SCAR 16 though.

  5. It seems obvious that one would keep going on the platform that they have trained with and built the muscle memory for, unless you have to give the gun back to FN. If you like the SCAR, use the SCAR. If you shoot better with it, use it. Doesn’t appear to be a difficult decision, at least not to me.

    Can we have more gun & gear reviews and less Leghorn’s 3-Gun Diaries? No offense but Leghorn’s competition shooting exploits are not very interesting. TTAG has great writers and Nick Leghorn is one of them. Better writers I think than other similar blogs. The 3-gun scene is getting boring though.

    • If you don’t like the content being posted on the website, how about you contribute to it instead of crying about it? They do enable readers to do that, you know.

      • I usually come here hoping to see more pictures of the girl in the “I Used To Care” t-shirt from Road Kill but am disappointed. Still though, great reviews. Love TTAG.

      • Alaskan –

        Actually no I didn’t know. But thanks for enlightening me. For your information I’m a consumer of what this blog produces, not a producer of what this blog produces. Producing is their job, as in literally their job. I reserve the right to complain however, since it’s my mouseclicks that pay the bills. Get it? More guns & gear reviews, less navel-gazing filler. That’s what I want. That’s what I expect. Nobody’s crying about anything, what I’m doing is called b*tching. Best gun blog going except for the lollygagging 3-gun nonsense.

        • Some people like the 3-gun stuff, some don’t. Complain away, and we’ll take it into consideration when we decide on the article mix for the day. But just like a bowl of Lucky Charms, the ratio of delicious marshmallows to cardboard-esque cereal bits is always going to be on the low side for a given personal taste so we can accommodate a broader palate.

        • Hey dog, of course you’re entitled to b*tch and whine.
          Just remember it makes you look like a pu**y if thats all you got to contribute.

          PS Nick, thanks for the review- I appreciate all of them including the real-world summary of what works in 3 gun. Thats as close as I’ll ever get to “operating” and since its pretty tough to REALLY sort out the operators from the posers, in these forums, its nice to know what works best, for durability, and accuracy, real-world.

        • rlc –

          Thanks, but my comments are contributions by definition.

          And if it must be so, that I look bad but feel good, then it’s thusly true. I must be a p*ssy. Nice ad hominem by the way.

          Going further, if Leghorn’s 3-gun articles are ‘ as close as you’ll ever get to “operating” ‘, at least you have made it easier to sort yourself out as a ‘ poser ‘, by your very own words.

          Quoting you again rlc2; “its nice to know what works best, for durability, and accuracy, real-world.” Precisely what I meant by more gun & gear reviews and less filler.

          I’d rather read more political articles even, than the relentless 3-gun yawners.

    • I’d like to vote in favor of keeping Nick’s 3-gun related articles, which along with gun/gear reviews are why I read TTAG.

  6. I was surprised that you liked the PWS more than the SCAR, but greatly respect the factual basis upon which you formed your opinion.

  7. Is there a “stock” class in 3-gun that uses platforms that aren’t HS;LD? I’d be interested in that…

    • Actually, the Texas Multigun Championship match next weekend has a WWII and Vietnam division. It lets you run anything from an M1 Garand to an as-issued M16, and keeps the competition pretty even among the competitors in those divisions.

      • A WW1/2 bolt action/revolver (really wouldn’t be fair using 1911’s against Lugers and Nagants seeing as Mr. Browning’s gift to the world is still in active service)/trench broom division would be awesome. It would probably be even more fun to watch too.

  8. Great SxS review, Nick. Please keep reporting on your 3 Gun competition and research. It’s nice to read for those of us who don’t get to compete as much as we would like to.

  9. I switched over to PWS after several years with other rifles, and weight was one of the biggest factors for me as well. I started out with a Robinson XCR, which was a beautifully crafted rifle, but it weighed 9 pounds with a scope and the heavy barrel it came with. I tried a Ruger SR556CLA (modular rail carbine model) and it was fine, but muzzle heavy.

    When I got my first PWS (MK114 Mod 0), it was noticeably lighter, but what really got me was the balance. The weight is centered around the receiver, and it just shoulders magically, and I can shoulder it comfortably for much longer. Sure, you can lift weights to help with a heavy rifle, but a muzzle heavy gun will always be more awkward than a neutrally balanced one. That gun is also spooky accurate. It’s one of those special guns that I can shoot lazily, offhand, and it just keeps hitting the target.

    There will always be naysayers, but PWS makes a really COMPLETE rifle. Solid, simple, tilt-free piston system, proprietary Keymod handguard, effective in-house muzzle brake, enhanced buffer tube, Magpul furniture instead of the usual cheap M4 style stuff, BCM Gunfighter charging handle. It even comes with MBUS sights. Throw on an optic and a sling and you’re good to go. If you haven’t tried one out, you really should – it’s not hype, they’re just damned good rifles.

  10. Nick – I wonder how much of your improved scores and times is from shooting alongside the highly-skilled FNH team members, and likely shooting more matches, versus how much of that improvement is due to shooting the SCAR?

  11. I’m posting this comment for “readers” who are too dense to figure out that Nick combined a three gun diary and a two gun comparison into one post.

    I guess that if a post isn’t titled “gun review,” the low information commenters can’t figure it out for themselves. Armed intelligentsia indeed.

    • Didn’t mean to beat up on the object of your man-crush Ralph. Nick’s a great writer and I gave him credit for that. I like his gun & gear reviews a lot. I don’t care so much for his navel gazing ‘I was on Team FNH’ memoirs. They bore me. Sue me over it.

      I’m impressed by your ability to summarily assess others’ intelligence merely by virtue of disagreement however, and for your humility in executing your disdain. Pride goeth before the fall Ralph.

      TTAG is the best firearms blog going as I said before, because of RF, Zimmerman, Leghorn, Dumm, et al. But not necessarily because of you Ralph. I embrace your hate notwithstanding.

      At least I’m not complaining about the adware, which is a HUGE annoyance that cannot be merely solved by a browser plugin.

  12. I like the 3 gun articles, I think you should review more 3 gun gear as well as
    the related guns.

    I much prefer reading them to the politics.

  13. Nick, I think you answered your own question. IMHO the SCAR is good where there is some distance in the engagements and in adverse environmental conditions. The AR is better for the close-in tactical run-and-gun matches. But a piston-upper does help the reliability.

    If I was going to use a classic bolt-action rifle (there’s an idea for 3-gun comp) my choices would be either Mauser 96 (Swede) or M98 with peep sights, or a No4 Lee-Enfield with the Singer (1MOA) adjustable back sight.

  14. Good reviews. I’m not into competition, but want to get into something (maybe three gun) when it’s financially possible. I’ve still got three old Gen-1 Pmags from the last AR I had and I’d like to try to use them to destruction.

  15. They’ll both good rifles. But at a certain point, one must conclude it’s more about the person behind the trigger than the tool. Wouldn’t you say that being a part of Team FNH lended the benefit of being a part of a group of highly competitive shooters who passed along both technique and mindset?

    I guess we can look forward to future 3-gun videos of you running a PWS. Good luck!

  16. Nice comparison. Kinda confirms what I thought about the SCAR platform. It really doesn’t offer any benefit until you get to the 17S Heavy in 308. The 17S provides a big advantage in weight and handling compared to the traditionally and even newer design (REPR) battle rifles. I sitll don’t understand why they won’t build it to take SR pattern mags. Until they do, I won’t buy one.

    FWIW, after flirting with a piston system (Sig 516) as my go to weapon for the past year or so, I decided to stay with my Frankenstein gas impingement AR due to weight and handling. It is reliable, accurate and will shoot any ammo I feed it.

  17. Nick,

    Great review, your past reviews, like the Tavor, SCAR-17S, and now the PWS MK114, are very candid, informative, and no BS. I always enjoy reading your reviews. Thanks again

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