Desert Tech unveiled the MDR in January of 2014. Development and supply chain issues finally resolved, these .308 bullpups are just now hitting online retailers and select dealer shelves near you. But should one hit your safe? We aimed to find out . . .
MDR stands for Micro Dynamic Rifle. I’m positive it’s a rifle. It’s as dynamic as you choose to make it. But is it micro? Legally speaking, yeah, it kind of is.
In the U.S., if a rifle’s barrel is shorter than 16 inches or if its overall length is shorter than 26 inches, it’s a short-barreled rifle (SBR) and subject to NFA regulation. With a 16-inch barrel and an OAL of just 26.2 inches, the MDR cuts it as close as can be.
There she is in flat coyote color, outfitted as it is from the factory with three-prong flash hider and 20-round PMAG. A reflex optic is available as an option, with a mount designed to put it on the MDR’s gas block. In the photo above, that’s the black section of Picatinny rail with the single slot.
In addition to keeping your optic toasty, mounting it to the gas block means the sight is directly affixed to the barrel. This ensures zero point of impact shift when removing and reinstalling the quickly-swapped barrel.
There’s even clearance for that factory optic inside of the MDR’s hard case, which neatly holds the broken-down rifle. But not with another optic in another location. Or a suppressor, or a bipod, or iron sights, or most handguard-mounted lights. But it does hold the MDR nicely.
Assembling the MDR is super easy. Lock the bolt to the rear, slide the barrel into place, and turn the lock bolt 180 degrees to the locked position. Then release the bolt so it locks into battery, ensuring proper headspace and consistency.
Tighten the two bolts behind the lock bolt and you’re done; you have a functional rifle. Adding the handguard is as easy as pushing a single captive pin in place, though it can be snugged down even further via two bolts.
A non-reciprocating charging handle extends from both sides of the rifle, laying down fairly flat until needed. They can be locked to the rear by lifting either side up into the steel frame’s notch. Which, yes, means you can send the bolt home with that oh-so-satisfying “HK slap.”
When the bolt locks open on empty during shooting, though, the charging handles remain forwards. After inserting a new magazine, simply hit the behind-the-mag bolt release with your thumb and the bolt goes home. This very Tavor-like lever can also be used to manually lock the bolt to the rear if, for some reason, you want to leave the charging handles forwards.
Lefties and Operators can rejoice, as the MDR is truly and completely ambidextrous. The aforementioned charging handle is on both sides, plus the safety and AR-style magazine release are also mirrored exactly on left and right.
I found the magazine release extremely stiff, but it’s apparently expected to break in a bit over time. The safety selectors are small and minimalist — I would prefer a slightly larger thumb pad — but functional with a precise feel.
A third magazine-release button is located on the front of the mag well. Centrally-located, it’s also ambi. It can be depressed while grabbing a magazine to strip it out during a malfunction or for a tactical reload.
Perhaps the most ambi feature of the MDR, though, is its ejection system. First, it ejects empty cases forward.
There. With the cute little dust cover open you can envision how the cases eject nearly due forward. This allows the MDR to be shouldered on either shoulder without worry of brass to the face.
But wait! There’s more! Pop the ejection port covers off — no tools needed — and swap them around, and now the MDR ejects forward out the left side of the rifle instead.
Part of the secret is a flat-faced bolt, which lacks the typical recess into which the case head goes. This and the 12:00 extractor leaves the brass free to leave the bolt out either side. One ejection-port cover is a scissor-action lever that pushes the case into the other ejection-port cover, which is the ejection chute.
The bolt’s forward travel as it heads back into battery is what shoves the empty case out the chute. While the “lever” ejection-port cover is mandatory for the rifle’s function, the “chute” one is optional. Without it, the MDR ejects cases with authority out the side at a just-rear-of-90-degrees angle.
While the engineering here is certainly very cool, I’m not quite convinced it was necessary. At least not the side-swapping aspect, which I’d have to assume sucked up a lot of R&D time and expense and may have been responsible for some of the MDR’s go-to-market delay.
Considering the forward ejection, shooting it on the “wrong” shoulder isn’t an issue. The system could be simplified and streamlined if it ejected only out the right side. That said, when I shot it off either shoulder with it ejecting on my sternum side, empty cases did hit my support hand arm and wrist. So…lefties will appreciate it more than me.
A short-stroke gas piston drives the MDR’s action via an adjustable gas system. Simply turn an adjustment knob — the handguard has to be popped off first (again, as easy as pushing a single takedown pin) — to switch between suppressed, normal, and adverse. AKA low, medium, and high gas. I shot about 140 rounds through the MDR with the flash hider before tiring of that and switching over to suppressed-only use.
The MDR’s trigger does pull its trigger bar rather than push it, which gives it a cleaner, better feel than many other bullpup designs. However, it definitely isn’t comparable to Desert Tech’s precision bolt-action rifles. It’s longer, heavier, and spongier. Break weight is about 7.5 lbs.
Generally, I found the trigger satisfactory. It’s far from ideal for a target rifle but it’s good for a long-range battle rifle. It feels something like a mil-spec AR trigger but without any of the grit. Or like a heavier GLOCK trigger with a bit more travel. I do like the shape and feel of the just-slightly-curved trigger shoe.
Once again I slapped my lovely SIG TANGO6 5-30×56 scope on for accuracy testing and settled down at 100 yards with mixed ammo representing a variety of bullet weights and styles.
First up was Freedom Munition’s Boar Buster, which fires a 168-grain Nosler Bonded Performance soft point. This hunting round ran flawlessly in the MDR and groups hovered just under 2 MOA. The one above was typical at about 1.88 minutes.
Hornady BLACK shot, on average, tighter than the Boar Buster with the group above — thanks to that left-side outlier — being the worst of four. Average was a hair over 1.5 MOA.
Since the zero was pretty well on with the BLACK I decided to test the MDR’s POI shift with it. I removed then reinstalled the barrel and shot another five-round group, aimed at the tip of that center diamond where my knife is pointing. POI moved up over an inch and slightly to the right.
Now, I can’t say this was a totally fair test. Those barrel bolts are supposed to be torqued down to 80 inch-pounds, but the MDR ships with a simple hand tool and my Wheeler FAT Wrench maxes out at 65 inch-pounds. I did my best to be consistent, but it’s possible if not likely that some or most of that POI shift falls to inconsistent torquing.
Though the owner’s manual (I actually read it!) recommends against steel-cased ammo and Desert Tech specifically told me the MDR may not run it reliably, this gun ate through 50 rounds of Hornady Steel Match without a hitch. Not only that, but the 155-grain HPBT rounds shot groups of about 1.2 MOA.
I only had five rounds of Hotshot Elite 146 grain remaining, so sent that downrange to the tune of this 2.88 MOA group. Not exactly impressive, but apparently there’s a reason it’s the cheapest ammo here.
Finally, no accuracy test is complete without some Federal Gold Medal. I shot the heavier 175 grain to round out the testing, and it turned in two groups scratching against 1 minute but not quite there. On a calmer, non-rainy day and certainly with a lighter, crisper trigger, I’m confident the MDR would average sub-minute groups with Gold Medal.
With “battle rifle” accuracy requirements typically hovering at about 3 MOA, and bullpups having an even worse accuracy reputation than normal, the MDR’s 1-2 MOA consistency is quite good. Particularly considering it’s doing that with ballistic tips, soft points, and hollow points with varying weights and powder charges.
On the range the MDR was enjoyable to shoot. I just had to keep reminding myself that it’s a semi-auto .308 bullpup rifle, as it looks and feels like a 5.56. Well, at least until you shoot it. Though it shoots noticeably softer than a bolt-action .308 of the same weight, it’s still a .308.
You’ll want to get your weight on your front foot and ensure you have a stable, shoulders-forward stance. Basically, approach it like it’s a 5.56 machine gun and there’s no problem shooting it rapidly and keeping it on target.
However, with the MDR’s weight balance shifted rearward toward the buttstock it did exhibit more tendency toward muzzle rise than a typical AR-10, which benefits in that regard from more weight toward the muzzle. I’ll take it, though, as that rearward weight bias makes for a more maneuverable gun that can be held in position against the shoulder for a longer time without fatigue, and can even be competently handled and fired one-handed.
I was excited to shoot this thing suppressed, figuring that the mostly-sealed receiver with only its small, forward-facing ejection port truly open would be both quiet and low on gas blowback. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Plenty of gaps exist between the receiver and the recoil pad, cheek rest, and ejection-port covers that gas has no problem escaping at velocity.
And I got dirty. Shooting suppressed on two different range trips, I came home looking like a chimney sweep. The first time I was wearing a dark grey shirt and didn’t notice if it was dirty, but my face was smudged up but good. The second time is seen above, with a huge mess of carbon fouling all over my right shoulder, on my neck, on my jaw, and from the corner of my mouth to my chin.
In the slow-mo at the beginning of the video up top, you can clearly see jets of gas blowing my hair around. While I didn’t actually feel gas hitting my face, I had to work hard to breathe fresh air and keep my eyes from going all fresh-cut onions.
At the end of all that, field stripping the MDR is very simple. Pop two captive takedown pins and the steel upper chassis swings up above the polymer lower. The bolt carrier with its recoil spring then slides right out the back. That’s effectively field stripped, but considering it takes about 20 seconds to remove the barrel I suppose that may as well come off for cleaning as well.
Furthermore, this quick-change barrel system allows for another MDR trick: Caliber swaps. The rifle will be available from the factory in both .308 and 5.56 (.223 Wylde, actually), then conversion kits will be available in .308, 5.56, and 300 Blackout (5.56 ETA around Thanksgiving, 300 BLK ETA is Q1 2018). For the AR-15 calibers, a magazine well insert is installed so standard AR-15 magazines can be used. Otherwise it’s as easy as swapping the barrel and bolt head.
Located in West Valley City, Utah, Desert Tech also manufactures the SRS-A2 bolt-action precision rifle, used by military and law-enforcement snipers, big-game hunters and precision-rifle competitors around the world.
On balance, I like this rifle. It ran flawlessly and feels stout and well-built. The MDR is a well thought-out, nicely-engineered firearm that meets all of its objectives. It’s a full foot shorter than an FN SCAR 17S and, while still far from inexpensive, its MSRP is a whopping $825 less. The ambidextrous crowd is certain to appreciate the MDR’s efforts there, and I really love how easy it is to break down.
Then again, I don’t actually think it’s as refined as a IWI Tavor X95. The magazine release is too stiff, the trigger isn’t as good, the balance and overall ergos aren’t quite as good, and it’s even gassier when suppressed (especially compared to the 300 BLK X95 with its adjustable gas block, which was effectively gas-free). But, yes, the MDR is chambered in a full-power rifle cartridge and the Tavor isn’t.
Specifications: Desert Tech MDR (.308)
Caliber: .308 / 7.62×51
Capacity: 20 rounds
Barrel Length: 16″
Twist Rate: 1:10″
Overall Length: 26.2″
Weight: 8.67 lbs
Colors: Black or FDE
Caliber Conversions: .223 Wylde and 300 AAC Blackout
MSRP Rifle: $2,524 ($2,274 in .223 Wylde) — available via EuroOptic and select dealers
MSRP Caliber Conversions: .223: $749 • 300 BLK: $829 • .308: $999
Ratings (out of five stars):
Reliability * * * * *
The MDR ran everything I threw at it, suppressed or not, including steel-cased ammo.
Accuracy * * * *
1-2 MOA from a semi-automatic bullpup battle rifle is significantly better than average.
Ergonomics * * * *
The mag release was too stiff and the safety levers a bit small. Otherwise the MDR puts all the controls in all the right places on both sides of the gun. Plus, it ejects to either side but can be fired just fine without making that easy swap. The rearwards balance makes it an easy rifle to wield and maneuver.
On The Range * * *
It’s a fun and enjoyable gun to shoot, but not suppressed. The MDR was louder than I had hoped and it was gassy as hell. I wish the gas block had more adjustment, as that may have helped. There’s no mistaking it for a .223 as some have claimed, but it’s very comfortable and controllable for a .308.
Overall * * * *
Desert Tech’s MDR could be refined further, but as it stands today it’s reliable, it has fully-ambidextrous controls, and it serves as a well-engineered, accurate battle rifle that packs .308 power into such a compact package it’s barely legal. The MDR is a formidable weapon.