The FN SCAR 20S is the latest in a long and fabled line of battle rifles. FN can rightly call themselves “The World’s Most Battle Proven Firearms.” It was only a few years ago that the British Army finally moved away from the positively ancient FN Hi-Power/GP35 as their standard sidearm. Talk about iconic military firearms. Meanwhile, the US military still uses multiple FN rifles and machine guns in its line-up of standard issue equipment, and has for decades.
Unlike many other companies, FN and their FN America subsidiary has also been consistent in releasing legally available firearms originally marketed to the military to the civilian customer. Think of them as commercial versions of the military’s arms including the USSOCOM. The FN SCAR 20S Precision Rifle is the latest in a long line of eagerly awaited rifles from the legendary manufacturer.
If you’re familiar with the SCAR 17S, the 20S Precision Rifle is going to look pretty familiar. Giant sections of rail cover 360 degrees around the hand guard, ending in twin, sturdy sling mounts.
All of the controls are ambidextrous, or can be converted to either side of the gun, including the reciprocating charging handle. Just like the 17S, if you grip the gun at the magazine well or just in front of it, you won’t likely do it again after you’ve pulled that trigger even a single time. That charging handle slamming back against your thumb will learn ya!
The major differences between the SCAR 17S and the 20S are all right out in the open.
For the color-scheme of the 20S, FN has fully committed. For those of you who liked the previous “tactical peanut butter” palette of the SCAR, the 20S takes it to 11. Welcome to “tactical banana split.”
We’re talking a giant chunk of flat yellow-ish, some caramel, at least a couple shades of chocolate, and brown. I think there’s four shades of black on this gun, too. Whereas the mismatched color scheme of the SCAR series was odd before, taking it to this level is downright impressive.
The 20S features a 20-inch heavy profile barrel with a 1:12 twist. How do you know the twist rate? It says so, right on the barrel. For those of you on the nerdier end of the spectrum, like me, that’s very helpful.
A flip through Brian Litz’s Ballistic Coefficient and Stability data shows us that a 1:12 twist rate will stabilize a 175gr Sierra Match King bullet even under the worst-case scenario with a Miller Stability Factor of 1.48. In other words, even if you’re at sea level with 0% humidity, it’s wicked cold out, and your bullet is only leaving the barrel at 2,600fps, the round will spin just fine. If you ever actually find yourself in that situation, I recommend you pick up your rifle and leave.
However, bullet shape plays a big role in stability. Bullet weight is the biggest determinant of bullet shape. That is, a light bullet will necessarily be a short one, and heavy bullet a long one. Still, there’s a lot to play around with there. For instance, even though it’s much lighter, that same 20S 1:12 barrel will only stabilize the Lapua 155gr Scenar bullet under the most ideal conditions. The moral of this story: know your bullet.
The trigger announces is presence with a tiny G. Nope, that’s not for “gansta” although it should be. The Geissele 2 Stage “Super SCAR” trigger is straight OG. Like Smith Barney, Geissele made their reputation for consistent quality the old fashion way…they earned it. As advertised, there’s a bit of pre travel, followed by a clean break at just over 3 lbs. It’s a great trigger on any gun. Yes, the Geissele Super SCAR trigger is outstanding.
I like a heavy barrel and a good trigger and Lord, I love a banana split, but the buttstock is the biggest improvement on the gun. The fixed position stock easily adjusts for both comb height and length of pull. The SCAR 17’s stock was never comfortable for me. This one feels entirely different.
I had a few different people shoot it, some familiar with the SCAR and some not, and every single person could get comfortable behind the gun.
That goes double for sustained fire. For those familiar with the AR-10 platform, the SCAR has a very different recoil profile. That’s true for both the direct impingement and other short-stroke gas piston rifles. A 7th Special Forces Group team member I spoke to described it best. He said the SCAR 17 “felt like it was trying to tear itself apart every time you started pouring rounds out.”
The 20S, on the other hand, feels rock solid, especially in fast fire. That may be partially because of its weight. At over 11 lbs. empty, she’s a hefty girl. Throw on a scope, a bipod, and insert a magazine and the rifle quickly hits 13lbs. But that doesn’t completely explain how well this rifle performs in fast fire.
And perform it does. Transitioning from target to target when shooting off a tripod or from the prone was a breeze. This gun likes to be shot. The muzzle moves very little, and the outstanding geometry of the stock allows the shooter to easily align the gun to their body and keep it there.
The pistol grip is a slightly over-sized Hogue rubber model with finger groves. I’m not a fan of this type of grip, but many others are. I find that these kinds of grips on precision guns encourage the shooter to muscle the gun into place instead of allowing a natural point of aim and proper body alignment to do the trick. But on a combat-oriented firearm, getting a grip on the gun for fast movement off-hand has a pretty important place.
The SCAR is a short-stroke gas piston operated rifle. I much prefer a piston gun over a direct impingement one, especially if it’s going to be suppressed. Suppressed guns get filthy dirty, and they get super hot. If your rounds out are onsies and twosies, no big deal. If they are 10 and 20 at a time, that makes a really big deal.
I spoke with qualified snipers in 5th, 7th, and 10th Special Forces groups, as well as Navy SEAL snipers. Each one of them told me the same thing. They all preferred a semi-automatic gun to a bolt gun. Much of the reason was purely rate of fire, and rate of fire on moving targets. It’s been my experience that, once the first of your opponents is shot, they are pretty much all moving targets.
Keeping the desire for a high rate or precision fire in mind, the SCAR 20S Precision Rifle continues to use their proven short-stroke piston system. It works perfectly.
In the three weeks or so I had the rifle, I’ve shot at least 1,000 rounds through it, with a couple hundred of those suppressed. The only time I ever had any issue was running a light round suppressed with the piston at the 12 o’clock “unsupressed” position. Putting it back in the proper 10 o’clock “suppressed” position and even the 125gr Hornady reduced recoil rounds ran like a champ.
I cleaned the gun thoroughly before I shot it, but never again for the entire review period. I shot it with the single (seriously, one?) supplied 10-round magazine as well as 20-round magazines from a SCAR 17S. I shot it in the rain and in the sun. This gun was pretty popular at The Range at Austin, and a lot of people got their hands on it. It never had a single issue of any kind with anyone. The SCAR is known for its reliability, and the 20S Precision Rifle is no exception.
FN promises minute of angle accuracy from the SCAR 20S. Twenty years ago that would have been a high bar for an auto-loader. In 2018, it’s not any more. In fact, I’ve reviewed quite a few auto-loading rifles that will shoot 1 MOA or better. Fortunately, the SCAR 20S clears the bar easily, and bests it handily.
I shot several commercial loads through the 20S, and not a single one of them above 150grains shot as bad as 1MOA. IMI’s 175gr BTSP round averaged 3/4-inch five-round groups over four-shot strings. Black Hills 175gr Match did the exact same. Match grade ammo definitely shines in this rifle.
These are standard military 7.62 NATO long-range rounds, and I’m sure they’re the bullet these guns were built around. I shot several hunting rounds from Hornady, Federal, and Nosler, and they all scored around the 3/4-inch mark. The only round to hit 1 MOA, and it hit it dead on, was that 125gr Hornady Custom Light reduced recoil round.
All accuracy testing was done seated with a Caldwell Stinger Shooting rest at 100 yards using a custom US Optics scope at 10 power magnification.
I’ve asked around and talked to quite a few qualified snipers. Not one of them had shot, much less deployed with the US military’s FN SCAR Mk 20 SSR. No one knew that “SSR” stood for “Sniper Support Rifle”. One 10th group sniper told me that sounded like a marketing gimmick.
I had to agree. After all, I’ve been “sniper support” many times, and my rifle was the M4 I was issued. On the other hand, several had used the 17S, although with widely varied opinions of the rifle and never in a “sniper” capacity.
I asked two SEALs and two current Green Beret buddies to shoot the 20S. The 18 series soldiers gave me quality feedback and the SEALs handed the gun back smelling like hair gel. But like everyone else who shot the rifle, they were all impressed.
If you think the SCAR 17S is too heavy, and I do, don’t even think about humping this rifle around. But this rifle isn’t designed for the same role. It’s designed for a lot more sitting and laying the prone, and a lot less walking. That sounds like my kind of fighting.
The real elephant in the room, beyond the jumbo weight of the gun is the price tag. FN puts a painful price on a rifle that’s a pleasure to shoot, with an MSRP of $4,499. In case you thought that was a misprint, that’s two fours followed by two nines with a big ol’ dollar sign right in front…and no decimals to be found.
Believe it or not, that price is actually in line with the competition. That’s if you narrow down those competitors to semi-automatic ambidextrous 7.62 NATO caliber precision rifles carried by current Special Operations personnel in ongoing conflicts and available on the civilian market.
FN has, in a way I don’t fully accept, made a SCAR I really want. Yes, it’s still heavy and it’s still ugly as sin and it has a little bar slamming back and forth on the side of it every time you shoot.
But now it fits. It still shoots forever, just now, even more accurately. Where it really shines is when you start wanting to put fast rounds out far away. There, the 20S Precision Rifle absolutely shines like no other SCAR I’ve ever shot.
If you’re an FN SCAR lover, the 20S is your next fling. If you aren’t, well, she may very well be the one you settle down with.
Specifications: FN SCAR 20S Precision Rifle
Operation: Short-stroke gas piston
Mag Capacity: 10 Rd.
Barrel Length: 20″
Overall Length: 40.6″ – 42.5″
Weight: 11.2 lbs.
Receiver: Hard-anodized monolithic aluminum
MIL-STD-1913 accessory rails at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions
Barrel: Cold hammer-forged, chrome-lined,free-floating barrel with muzzle device
Trigger: Geissele® “Super SCAR”
Stock: adjustable for LOP and comb height; Adjustable cheekpiece
Grip: Hogue® rubber pistol grip with finger grooves
Operating Controls: Ambidextrous safety lever and magazine release
Charging handle may be mounted on right or left side
Magazine: 1 10 round (optional 20)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * *
Tactical banana split. Some love it. To each his or her own.
Customization * * * *
Lots of rails. Rails everywhere. As for the rest of it, the whole point of buying this rifle is that it is exactly as it is.
Reliability * * * * *
Runs and runs and runs. Clean or dirty. Can on the end or not. Any shooter, any round and a SCAR .308 magazine. It runs.
Accuracy * * * * *
Consistent 3/4-inch MOA with a 10X scope and several different brands of ammunition.
Overall * * * * 1/2
The only thing I can justifiably take points off for here is the weight. Even if I narrowly define the competition, it’s still heavy compared to other offerings. To only provide a single 10-round magazine with a semi-automatic rifle at this price point is just wrong. Beyond that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beauty of this gun is that it shoots tiny groups far away and it does it really fast. Put one round out at a time in slow fire and this rifle won’t impress you. But start putting them out of the barrel and onto targets faster than you ever thought you could, and then maybe that ludicrous price tag won’t seem so crazy after all.